Chapter 1: One Small Child
Sundays were the busiest day of the week for Father John Watson. Between preparing the wafers and wine, locating and replacing the hymn books and missals, putting out the collection plates, selecting the passages to read, and considering his homily, John barely had a minute to spare until late afternoon. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Sundays were John’s favourite day of the week. He liked to be busy, and he liked to feel that he was making a difference, so he always put a lot of effort into Sunday Mass, especially as it was sometimes the only contact he had with some of the parishioners.
John was dedicated to his parish, his first since being ordained. Withyham was a small village nestled in the Sussex Downs and the parish encompassed the village itself as well as a couple of outlying hamlets. It was a small parish and only about thirty people attended the church, but this made it ideal for a new priest to find his feet, especially as its size meant that John wasn’t particularly stretched and was quite contentedly left to work alone. Weddings and funerals were rare, as were baptisms, so John’s life revolved around Sunday Mass, confession, and home visits to the old and sick. It was not a life John would have dreamed of several years ago, but he could not imagine another one now.
John had once dreamed only of becoming a doctor, and he remembered that time with a certain degree of fondness now. However, less than a year out of university, the child abuse case that had fallen across his lap had forced him to reassess some of the choices he had made. The incident had been horrific, and seeing that little girl suffer so intensely before eventually dying from her injuries had left John feeling helpless and miserably lost. He had always found comfort in his faith but as he turned deeper and deeper towards prayer, the Church had become one of the few places where he had found any sort of peace as he struggled to make sense of what he had seen.
John simply hadn’t been able to put the incident behind him, despite the well-meaning advice of older and more experienced doctors. He had found himself becoming distant and distracted, and unable to do his job as he had before - not with that little girl’s face haunting him. He had spent hours praying, searching for an answer, but it had not been enough. Two months later, John had quit his studies and joined a seminary, the peaceful introspection offering a glimpse of the answers he had been so desperately seeking.
The church in Withyham was mostly attended by pensioners, save for one rather proud-looking woman who sat at the front. Her name was Cecily Holmes and she looked to be in her late forties. She was dressed impeccably, dark hair carefully curled and subtle make-up perfectly accentuating her features. Mrs. Holmes was beautiful, but there was a lingering weight in her expression, a sadness that never seemed to go away.
For four weeks, John only spoke to her in passing as she left the church, but finally, one day, she lingered in the doorway until everyone else had gone and John had the opportunity to talk to her at length. She answered his questions in clipped, precise tones and was somewhat intimidating, but John had dealt with far worse during his medical training and he kept his tone polite and pleasant.
He asked after her family and she told him in low tones about the passing of her husband. He had committed suicide only two years before, leaving her to raise their two sons alone. He noted the flush of her skin, and the obvious shame she felt at her husband's act - a shame borne of religious devotion. He said nothing and she spoke briefly of her sons. The elder, Mycroft, was at university, soon to graduate and join the civil service. The younger, Sherlock, was currently at Harrow. The frown that crossed her face when she spoke of her youngest child was gone a moment later but John noted it nonetheless. At the end of the conversation, Mrs. Holmes invited John for tea the following evening and he accepted gladly.
Although his conversation with Mrs. Holmes had given John the impression of a wealthy background, he was unprepared for the size of the house he found himself in the next evening. It was a large old country house, complete with huge stained-glass windows and ancient portraits and tapestries. John, although used to the grandeur of churches and cathedrals, felt uneasy from the beginning of his visit. Coupled with his uneasiness was a strong desire to hide his nervousness from Mrs. Holmes. He could tell she thought him too young for his position - he was only six years older than her eldest son, after all - and it made him all the more eager to earn her respect.
Tea was served in a draughty sitting room and John perched uncomfortably on a small sofa, sipping at his drink as Mrs. Holmes asked his opinion on several controversial topics. It felt like a test, and John had no idea if he was passing or failing as Mrs. Holmes' expression remained unchanged throughout.
As John was finally preparing to take his leave, relieved to be going, the door to the room flew open and a boy - a teenager - stormed in, grey-blue eyes fixed on Mrs. Holmes. He made no acknowledgment of John's presence and instead scowled at the older woman.
"You've hidden it. Where have you hidden it?"
"I've no idea what you mean, Sherlock, dear,” Mrs. Holmes said calmly. “But since you’re here I'd like you to meet our new priest, Father Watson."
The boy, Sherlock, took one quick look at John and swiftly dismissed him, turning back to his mother.
"It's mine. Father left it to me."
"And I'm quite sure he would not approve of you abusing his Stradivarius the way you do."
Sherlock scowled again and then stormed out of the room once more, leaving them in awkward silence.
"I, ah, I thought you said your youngest son was at Harrow?" John asked hesitantly.
Mrs. Holmes sighed and pressed a delicate hand to her temple.
"He is, Father. He's currently on suspension."
Mrs. Holmes sighed again and her gaze drifted towards the window.
"Sherlock is such an angry young man. He has these awful moods...” She trailed off. “He’s so like his father. He misses him terribly."
"I'm sure it must be very hard on you all."
Mrs. Holmes blinked and slowly turned her attention back to John.
"Yes, well. I suppose you had better be heading home, Father. Thank you so much for visiting."
John thanked her and then took his leave, glad to be free of the oppressive place.
Mrs. Holmes attended church every week, sitting in the very front row by herself. In the summer two months after John's arrival, a portly young man appeared by her side, evidently her eldest son. The young man shared his mother and younger brother's dark hair, but otherwise it was difficult to see any family resemblance. Where Mrs. Holmes and Sherlock were both tall and slender with sculpted cheekbones and pale eyes, Mycroft Holmes was rounder, and softer, with dark eyes. He had the same proud look as his mother though and when Mrs. Holmes introduced them after the service, John noted that he shared her reserved, polite manner. He would make a very good civil servant.
Father John was invited to dinner later in the week and was treated to a stiff, formal affair with Mrs. Holmes and her eldest. The seat reserved for the younger Holmes remained conspicuously empty, and mother and son both frowned in the direction of the empty place when John asked after Sherlock.
"I'm afraid he's sulking, Father," Mrs. Holmes explained. "And he refuses to eat."
"And to speak, half of the time," Mycroft added with a frown of consternation. "My brother can be quite troublesome, Father, as I'm sure you've heard."
"Most teenagers are," John commented lightly.
"Not all teenagers," Mrs. Holmes replied, smiling at her eldest son.
It was quite clear which of her children she preferred and John couldn't help but wonder if this was as obvious to Sherlock. He knew from personal experience that sibling rivalry could be a poison, slowly eating away at a family. He hadn’t spoken to his sister in years, not since he had joined the Church - it had been, to her, the ultimate betrayal.
"I'm sure Sherlock will grow out of it," John suggested. "Most people have a rebellious phase at some point. I know I wasn't immune to the odd sulk when I was in my teens."
Mrs. Holmes merely gave a hum that may have been agreement, or perhaps a comment on John's background, and Mycroft changed the topic, asking John's opinion of the new Prime Minister.
John was ready to leave not long after dinner and was wondering if it was polite to do so when Mrs. Holmes leaned towards him, pale eyes fixed on his face.
"Could I ask you to do something for me, Father?”
“Would you talk to Sherlock?" she asked. "I'm so worried about him."
"I can. If you think it might help."
"Heaven knows. There must be a way to get through to that boy, but I haven't found it yet."
John had never seen Mrs. Holmes look so dejected and he quickly said his goodbyes to her and Mycroft before heading for the far end of the house. It was eerily quiet as John walked towards Sherlock's bedroom, but as he approached he could see through the half-open door that Sherlock was sprawled over his bed, legs crossed, violin cradled in his arms.
John tapped his knuckles against the door and Sherlock looked up with a start.
"Can I come in?"
Sherlock said nothing, turning his eyes to the ceiling, and John stepped into the room.
"How are you, Sherlock?"
The boy turned back and fixed his piercing gaze on John for a few seconds, before he gave a bitter laugh.
"This is their latest tactic, is it?"
Sherlock snorted and rolled to his feet, resting his violin on the bed. He moved to the window, staring out onto the rolling green hills of the Downs.
"I'm afraid to disappoint you, Father ,” Sherlock said, his tone laced with derision. “But there's nothing you could say that would mean anything to me."
"Nothing at all?" John teased.
Sherlock turned and levelled him with a stony stare.
"Why's that?" John asked in an easy tone.
“I don’t believe in your God.”
“Fair enough. Doesn’t mean he can’t believe in you.”
Sherlock scoffed and slid into the window seat, drawing his long legs up to his chest.
“I’m not interested in a sermon, or whatever my mother has told you to do to fix me .”
“Do you need to be fixed?” John asked.
“They think I do,” Sherlock said in sullen contempt.
“Why?” John pushed, trying to get the boy to open up.
“Get out, please.”
John held up his hands in a placating gesture and backed slowly out of the room, pausing at the threshold.
“You know I’m here though? If you ever need to talk to someone.”
“Goodbye, Father ,” Sherlock snapped, and John nodded and escaped into the hallway.
Father John held confession every Tuesday afternoon and every Tuesday afternoon, he was subjected to the usual litany of day-to-day ‘sins’: one old lady had coveted another’s new fur coat; an even older man had stolen his neighbour’s milk; the village postman admitted to having impure thoughts about the village school’s married headteacher. Nevertheless, it was part of the job that John enjoyed - absolving his flock of their sins, letting them unburden their minds and souls.
One Tuesday afternoon in mid-September, the door to the confessional booth closed and a very familiar voice spoke up from the other side of the screen.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Sherlock said uncertainly. “It has been... three years since my last confession.”
“Go on, my child.”
Sherlock remained silent for a long time, but eventually his voice carried through the screen once more.
“I have disobeyed my mother and I have... upset her.”
“What happened?” John asked carefully, not wanting to scare the boy away - not when he was opening up.
“I got into a fight at school.”
Sherlock fell silent again and John coaxed him to carry on with a gentle ‘Go on’.
“One of the older boys... He called me a freak.”
John’s heart constricted in his chest but he stayed quiet.
“So, I hit him. And it felt good, so I kept hitting him. But then his friends turned up and... well...”
“Are you alright?” John asked, concern for the boy making him speak up. It wasn’t the normal protocol for a confession, but he didn’t think Sherlock would respond well to the usual routine.
“I’ve got a fractured collarbone and two cracked ribs.”
John winced in sympathy and let out a little sigh.
“I’ve been suspended for four weeks,” Sherlock continued. “My mother’s so angry she’s locked herself in her room. I heard her on the phone to Mycroft last night. They want to send me away, somewhere I can’t cause any trouble .”
As he repeated his mother’s words, John could hear the bitterness in Sherlock’s voice and, underneath that, the fear.
“Your mother worries about you,” John said softly. “She worries because she loves you.”
Sherlock scoffed in reply and John could hear him shifting nervously in his seat.
“Are you going to give me my penance now?” Sherlock asked.
“Do you even remember the Hail Mary?” John asked, amused.
“Of course. I was forced to carry on this ridiculous charade until I was twelve.”
“Well, I’m not sure the ‘ridiculous charade’ of saying Hail Marys will help you anyway,” John countered. “You should apologise to your mother.”
“You’ll have to keep trying then. She will forgive you.”
He heard Sherlock sigh from the other side of the screen, but then he spoke up with a quiet ‘Thank you’.
“You’re welcome. Go in peace.”
“Thanks be to God,” Sherlock murmured, and a moment later the door of the booth closed behind him, leaving John alone with his thoughts.
Autumn turned quickly into a bitterly cold winter and for much of December and January the Downs were covered in a thin layer of snow. By February, John was well and truly fed-up of the cold. The old house that backed onto the church had only a fire for warmth and even that failed to chase away the damp chill most evenings, leaving him huddled under blankets trying to keep warm. It was at times like this when he most missed London and the modern flat he had shared with a fellow medical student by the name of Mike Stamford. He would have given anything for central heating now.
Late one evening, when John was just considering dragging himself from the cold living room to his cold bed, he heard a knocking from the front of the house. Unravelling himself from his blankets, he made his way to the door and opened it to find a shivering and dishevelled Sherlock on his doorstep.
“I’m sorry it’s late,” Sherlock said awkwardly, eyes fixed on the floor.
“What are you doing?” John asked worriedly. “Get in here.”
He pulled the boy into the house and dragged him towards the fireplace, pushing him into the closest chair. He grabbed one of the blankets from his own chair and draped it over Sherlock’s shoulders.
“What’s going on?” he asked, moving to stand in front of the boy. The firelight flickered over red-stained cheeks and even redder eyes.
“I don’t want to go back to that place.”
Sherlock shook his head.
Sherlock nodded and drew the blanket around himself.
“They can’t make me go back.”
John didn’t like to point out that his mother could technically do whatever she pleased.
“Why don’t you want to go back?” John asked, moving to his small kitchen and putting the kettle on.
“It’s awful. Everyone is so stupid. And dull.”
John wandered back into the living room and sat back down in his seat.
“Did you get into another fight?”
“What does it matter?” Sherlock snapped defensively. “They’re all idiots anyway. And the staff believe them because they’re normal ."
“You’re normal, Sherlock.”
Sherlock laughed, that awful bitter laugh that made him sound so much older than his sixteen years.
“You must be the only one who believes that. Even my own mother, my brother-”
Sherlock cut himself off and stared at the fire, lip caught between his teeth.
“Does your mother know where you are?” John asked.
“She doesn’t care.”
“Of course she does,” John replied, rising to his feet and moving to the phone. “I’m going to call her and tell her you’re safe.”
“Sherlock,” John said sternly.
“Oh, fine. Call her. I don’t care.”
The boy crossed his arms across his chest and continued a silent staring match with the fireplace as John called Mrs. Holmes and informed her of the situation.
“It’s getting late now,” John said after he had explained, glancing at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. “He’d best stay here for the night. I’ll make sure he gets home tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you, Father. I’m so sorry about this.”
“Not a problem. Goodnight, Mrs. Holmes.”
John hung up the phone and went through to the kitchen to make tea.
“Have you eaten?” he called to Sherlock.
John rolled his eyes but finished preparing the tea and carried the mugs through into the living room. He handed one of the mugs to Sherlock and settled in his own chair, wrapping his hands around the cup for warmth.
“There’s a spare room,” John said. “It’ll be freezing, but then the whole place is.”
Sherlock didn’t say anything, but the side of his mouth twitched into a smile. Sensing an opportunity, John regarded the boy carefully as he asked: “Tell me about your father?”
Sherlock froze but his expression turned wistful as he stared into the fire.
“He was a scientist. He was brilliant. The cleverest man I’ve ever known. And... and he never looked at me like there was something wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Sherlock.”
John wasn’t sure if it was his words or the memory of his father, but suddenly the boy was sobbing, hunched in on himself and obviously trying to stop. John placed his mug down and quickly got to his feet, crossing to the other chair and laying a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” he whispered, coaxing the mug of tea out of Sherlock’s hand and placing it down, before kneeling and drawing the boy’s head against his chest. “It’s alright. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Sherlock let out a choked sob against John’s neck and cold fingers gripped at his shirt. John held him tighter and rocked him gently as the miserable boy cried and cried.
Sherlock returned - reluctantly - to Harrow the following week, stayed for Easter, and by the time he returned for the summer John had been offered a place in a new parish in London. John left all his contact details for the boy, hoping he would call if he needed someone to talk to, but he didn’t hear a word from Sherlock in the years that followed.
In time, the memories of Withyham faded as John moved on to new challenges. He became a chaplain for the Army and shipped out to the Balkans, returning from his third tour thoroughly sick of the horrors of war. He moved back to London and found himself working in the parish that included St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he had once trained. Some of his old coursemates were still there, Mike Stamford included, and John soon found a home among the patients and their doctors.
Chapter 2: Comfort, Comfort All My People
Sherlock Holmes is everything Father John Watson should probably disapprove of. He's an atheist, a rationalist, an addict, and gay. But none of those things is enough to stop him from being the most fascinating person John's ever met.
John spent at least one day a week at St. Bart's, visiting patients, talking to doctors and on occasion administering the Last Rites. He felt strangely at home in this place where he had once felt so lost, and he had become well-known among the doctors and even some of the long-term patients.
Mrs. Grant was eighty-six years old and had been admitted with severe pneumonia three times in the last year. She was a regular churchgoer when she was well enough, and John always made sure to visit her when she was in the hospital. In spite of her age and her failing health, she was a lively, spirited woman and John enjoyed chatting with her once he had given her the Eucharist. She talked fondly of her three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and told stories of her early life in Kenya. John always came away with a smile after visiting her, and that particular day had been no different.
John had just left Mrs. Grant's room and set off down the corridor when he was suddenly knocked sideways as a nurse with a crash cart barrelled past him.
"Sorry, Father!" she called out as she rushed into a nearby room.
John drew level with the room and couldn't help stopping. It was a sight he was more than familiar with from his time working here: the patient, helpless, while the doctors and nurses worked quickly and efficiently to revive them. They gave the patient - a young man from what John could see - a shot of adrenaline as a nurse pumped air into his lungs. Everyone went quiet as they turned to watch the monitor, waiting to see if the adrenaline had worked. John mumbled the words of a prayer as he watched with them.
Finally, the monitor registered a response, an uncertain flutter growing into a steady heartbeat. Everyone seemed to give a sigh of relief before getting back to work, tidying the mess and making the patient comfortable. It was only as they started to leave the room that John finally got a better look at the man and his chest tightened painfully when he caught sight of pale skin and dark curls. He would recognise Sherlock Holmes anywhere.
John jolted out of his daze at the touch on his arm and turned to the nurse who had collided with him earlier.
"Are you alright?" she asked. "You've gone all pale."
"I'm fine. I just, I know that boy," John said, gesturing towards the room. "Man," he corrected a moment later.
The nurse gave him a look of concern.
"Maybe you should sit down."
"I'm fine," John reassured her. "It's just a bit of a shock. I haven't seen him for... must be nearly seven years."
He glanced at her and then looked back at the prone figure in the bed.
"I think I'll sit with him for a while," John said quietly.
"Of course. Go ahead,” the nurse patted his hand. “If you’re alright, I'd better get on."
The nurse disappeared and John moved into the room, stopping at the end of the bed. It was difficult to reconcile this gaunt-looking man with the fifteen-year-old John had known before. John frowned and picked up the chart left hanging off the foot-board, eyes skimming over the paper. He froze when he spotted the words 'suspected drugs overdose' and suddenly felt indescribably sad. He wondered what had happened to Sherlock in the past seven years to bring him to this point.
John replaced the chart and moved to sit in one of the chairs. He clasped his hands together and started to pray again, his eyes fixed on Sherlock.
It was a while before Sherlock stirred but eventually familiar grey-blue eyes opened, flicking around the room in obvious confusion. John got to his feet and Sherlock's gaze moved to him.
"Father?" Sherlock got out, sounding tired and confused.
"What- Where am I?" Sherlock asked, obviously disoriented.
Sherlock moved as if to sit up and John stepped forward, placing a restraining hand on his shoulder and guiding him to lay down again.
"It's okay. You're in the hospital."
"Rest," John said gently. "I'll be here when you wake up again."
Sherlock regarded him with a frown, but quickly succumbed to his tiredness and fell asleep once more. John returned to his chair to wait, passing the time in contemplation and prayer.
Finally Sherlock started to stir again and this time, when he opened his eyes, he seemed more aware. His eyes sought out John straight away and his brow furrowed when his gaze settled on him.
"Did Mycroft send you?"
"No. I work here. In a manner of speaking," John said softly. "How are you feeling?"
Sherlock blinked at him, and then turned his head away.
"I think I might sleep some more," Sherlock said, an obvious dismissal.
"Okay. We'll talk later."
Sherlock turned to scowl at him, a look that John remembered very well.
"I don't need any spiritual guidance. Thank you, Father," Sherlock said, fixing his eyes on the ceiling.
"Are you sure?"
Sherlock scowled again and met John's gaze with a fierce look.
"Tell me, Father John, what does your God think of drug addicts?" he snapped.
"God loves all kinds of people."
"What about homosexuals?" Sherlock bit out.
Sherlock laughed sourly.
"Oh yes. Love the sinner, hate the sin," he said somewhat venomously.
"Sherlock," John said calmly. "Why don't you tell me what you've been up to all these years?"
"I think that's obvious enough even for you, Father. I've been wasting my youth and throwing my life away ."
There was a familiar parody in his words.
"Is that what your mother thinks?"
Sherlock regarded him for a moment in surprise, and then gave him a half-smile.
"Mycroft, actually. Mummy's too ill to be much bothered by what I do. Not that she ever was."
"I'm sorry," John said automatically. "Is it serious?"
"Apparently," Sherlock said, then shrugged half-heartedly. "I haven't spoken to my mother in months."
John found he wasn’t much surprised by this turn of events, remembering the strained relationship between the pair. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop himself from urging a reconciliation.
“I’m sure she'd be happy to hear from you.”
“You’ve obviously forgotten what my mother’s like. I assure you, she hasn’t improved in the last seven years.”
“I’m tired,” Sherlock interrupted, closing his eyes deliberately.
With a quiet sigh, John got to his feet and, after a moment’s hesitation, he reached out to rest his hand on the other man’s shoulder. Sherlock’s eyes flew open in surprise.
“I'll leave you to rest. God be with you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock’s only reply was to roll his eyes and turn his head away, closing his eyes again. John drew his hand away and with one last look at the other man, he turned and left.
John had a late lunch with Stamford, before heading back to Sherlock's room, unable to stay away. Just as seven years before, he had been moved by Sherlock's pain. As he approached the room, Mycroft Holmes was just leaving and he stopped when he caught sight of John. Mycroft was dressed in a perfectly tailored suit and appeared to have lost some of the extra weight he had carried in his early twenties.
"Hello, Father," he said as soon as John was close enough.
"Hello, Mycroft. How are you?"
"Fine, Father. Thank you."
"I'm sorry to hear about your mother," John said softly. "If there's anything I can do..."
"I'm afraid it’s probably a little beyond even your keenest abilities at this point, Father. She has leukaemia. It's quite advanced now."
"I'm sorry. She'll be in my prayers."
Mycroft gave a half-smile, much more subtle in his disregard for the Church than his brother - a consummate diplomat.
"Sherlock too," John added. "I'm sorry to see him again in these circumstances."
"Unfortunately, this is not the first time my brother has risked his life in this manner," Mycroft answered with a sigh.
They fell into a brief, awkward silence.
"Sherlock’s sleeping at present," Mycroft said, glancing towards the room. John couldn't help wondering if Sherlock had used sleep as an excuse to get rid of his brother as well. Either way, he was probably not in the mood for any more visitors.
"Ah. I'll leave him be then. He needs all the rest he can get."
"Yes," Mycroft agreed. "In any case, I must be going."
"Of course. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Father," Mycroft said with a nod, and then he was gone.
Sherlock had apparently discharged himself by the time John came to visit the next day and John returned to the parish church feeling restless. He wanted to help Sherlock, but if the man himself was so resistant to help, there was really nothing John could do but pray for him and hope he found a way out of his current situation.
John heard nothing of the Holmeses for several weeks but then one early morning a month or so later, Sherlock appeared in the church. John had been tidying in the sacristy and had only come out to get a cup of tea when he caught sight of the bowed head among the empty pews.
John instantly changed course, the sound of his footsteps echoing off the stone floor as he made his way to Sherlock. He sat down next to the other man, watching him in silence. There was obviously a reason for Sherlock's visit, but John wasn't sure what it might be, considering how much Sherlock seemed to dislike the Church. John crossed his hands in his lap and continued to sit in silence, waiting for Sherlock to speak.
After perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, Sherlock finally shifted in his seat, although his gaze remained fixed on the floor. He brushed a hand over his face and raised his head just a bit, just enough for John to see how drained he looked.
"It's my mother," Sherlock finally said, his voice unsteady. "She's dead."
John closed his eyes for a moment, fingering the rosary he kept in his pocket.
"I'm so sorry," John said, reaching out to lay a hand on Sherlock's shoulder.
Sherlock was quiet for a while, but then he spoke up again.
“I hated her sometimes.”
John remained silent, not sure anything he could say would help. Sherlock sniffed, raising his head further to look straight out in front of him.
"I don't know why I came here," Sherlock admitted. "My mother always found comfort in religion, but I never could."
Sherlock squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, his expression twisted with pain, before he shook it away.
"I almost did something very stupid when I found out. Almost. But I couldn’t bring myself to go through with it."
Sherlock laughed bitterly and tipped his head back, addressing his next words to the roof.
"I suppose she can be glad that she has more power over my actions in death than she ever did when she was alive."
Sherlock's expression flickered with momentary amusement, but then sobered. John continued to watch him in silence.
"Sometimes I wish I could have my mother's faith. Your faith,” Sherlock said quietly. “I wish I could believe that when people die, they go to Heaven; that they go to be with God and the people they love."
"You don’t believe it’s even possible?" John asked.
"Oh, where to begin...," Sherlock answered sardonically, his eyes finally meeting John's. John gave him a small smile and Sherlock gave an amused twitch of his lips. He brushed his hair away from his forehead and bowed his head once more, his hands pressed together in mock-prayer.
"I don’t know why it makes me feel better, talking to you," Sherlock murmured with a frown. “You’re just like everyone else, trying to save me.”
"Do you want to be saved?"
"Yes," Sherlock whispered, after only a moment's hesitation.
"Well, that's the first step, isn't it? Admitting that you need help?” John said. “I suppose you've considered rehab?"
"I don't think I could bear it. All that group therapy ,” Sherlock said with a look of disgust. “Normal therapy, even. It sounds dreadful."
John smiled softly and Sherlock sat back in the pew, arms crossed over his chest.
"Will you pray for me?" Sherlock asked quietly.
"I always have, Sherlock."
Sherlock stared at him for a moment, but then turned his gaze away. They fell into a comfortable silence, each man caught up in his own thoughts.
Sherlock didn't go to rehab, but he did go away. It was only afterwards that John learnt he had gone to shut himself in the family's summer home in the Rhone Valley to battle his addiction alone. John heard from him only once, when he received a six-page letter full of complicated and long-winded arguments against the existence of Heaven. It had made John smile and he had tucked it away into an old copy of The Apocrypha his sister had sent him after he’d been ordained. He did not hear from Sherlock again but he continued to think of him often and included him in his prayers, hoping that he could make peace with himself someday.
Chapter 3: Fight The Good Fight
Sherlock Holmes is everything Father John Watson should probably disapprove of. He's an atheist, a rationalist, an addict, and gay. But none of those things is enough to stop him from being the most fascinating person John's ever met.
Turning forty felt like a significant milestone and it seemed somehow appropriate that John was moving again. His new parish was in South London and was the largest he had worked in, meaning he would share the duties with two other priests. It was also considerably less affluent than any of his previous parishes. It was what the Church administration referred to as a problem area and that became clear quite quickly when John found a juvenile offender, a gang member, and even a prostitute among the congregation.
Holly was a pretty little redhead who came to Mass every Sunday and confession every Thursday morning. Every Thursday she would be close to tears as she confessed and although John tried his best to soothe her, he knew that the only way she could truly find the comfort she sought was if she could stop prostituting herself. It was a difficult situation, and though he couldn’t exactly condone her actions he also understood the desperation that drove her to keep doing it.
“You know, the point of penance is to ask God for forgiveness, after you repent,” he said to her eventually. “I don’t have the power to forgive you, that’s up to our Lord, and he does forgive... but you have to know that you can’t honestly repent when you’re still planning to go out and do it again?”
He winced as he heard her hiccuping sobs on the other side of the screen. She’d seemed even more upset than usual this time and John checked his watch thoughtfully. His time was already over, Holly almost always the last to make her appearance, and he dithered for a moment before making his decision.
“Look, do you want a cup of tea?” he asked.
“W-what?” Holly stammered.
She sounded surprised but soon agreed with a hesitance that suggested she was not often acquainted with simple human kindness. John exited the booth and she gave him a weak smile, before following him through the back of the church and into the house he shared with the other priests.
John offered her a seat in the kitchen and busied himself making tea for the both of them. He finally sat down opposite the young woman, placing a slightly chipped mug in front of her, and letting his eyes be drawn to the bruise on her right cheek. Noticing the direction of his gaze, she raised a hand to her face, eyes flicking nervously to the table.
“It’s nothing. Just an accident," she mumbled with an awkward smile.
John frowned, but didn't comment. He settled in his chair and gave her a gentle smile as he sipped at his tea.
“So, are you originally from around here?” he asked.
Holly’s expression brightened with the change of topic. He wondered how often she actually had a chance to have a normal conversation - she seemed a little starved of normal human contact.
"No. I used to live in North London, with my mum. Erm, Ruislip. D'you know it?"
"I've heard of it."
"It's nice. Well, I mean, it's a bit rough," she said with a wry smile. "But I was used to it. It was home, you know."
"Why did you move?" John asked carefully.
"Had to," she answered with a little shrug. "My mum died."
"Cancer," she said quietly. "It was... horrible."
"You must have been quite young," John guessed.
"Yeah,” she replied, fiddling with the handle of her mug. “I'd just left school when she got sick."
"Did you have any other family?"
"Nah," she said with another little shrug. "My dad left when I was little, and there wasn't really anyone else."
It was a story John had heard many times before, but it was still upsetting to hear what this young girl had gone through.
"What about Social Services?" he asked.
The girl laughed scornfully.
"I was 18 when my mum died so they really didn't give a toss," she said frankly, before blushing at her choice of words. "Sorry, Father."
"It's okay," John said with a laugh. "It takes a lot to scandalise me. I used to be an Army Chaplain, I can swear fluently in about nine different languages."
Holly giggled warmly, taking a sip of her drink before speaking up.
"You know, you're not like the other priests."
John raised an eyebrow, prompting her to continue.
"I mean, Father Lawrence is nice," she explained, giving him a slightly sheepish smile. "But he's, like, really old."
John laughed and she looked a little relieved not to have offended him. Father Lawrence was only about fifty, but John supposed that for a young girl like Holly he seemed practically ancient.
"Father Simon's not much older than you," John said amiably.
Holly's brow furrowed and she bit her lip nervously, before finally daring to speak up.
"He's a bit... Well - you see, Father - he's, I dunno. He’s just not very nice, not to me,” she said hesitantly. “Not like you."
John wasn't terribly surprised by her comments. It had become clear in the early days after John's arrival that Simon - a priest fresh from the seminary - was a little over-zealous and somewhat inflexible in his beliefs. He hadn’t quite learned the difference between preaching and patronising yet, though John hoped for all their sakes it wouldn’t be long before he got the hang of it. Much as it wouldn't be proper for him to comment on a fellow priest however, John couldn’t help but agree with her. Taking a safer option instead, he John steered the conversation in a different direction.
"Were you raised Catholic?"
"Yeah,” Holly said with a tiny, fond smile. “My mum was really devout. We used to go every week before she got sick. Sometimes twice a week."
"You stayed though, after her death. Not many people your age do," John commented. "I think they get a bit bored," he added in a conspiratorial tone.
Holly smiled, but shook her head a little.
"I like coming to Church. It's... It's a bit like having a family again."
"And I, I know what I’m doing is wrong, but I feel like... like I can still be loved."
"Of course you can," John said vehemently.
She gave him a weak smile, eyes flicking between his face and the table.
"I know I have to stop, Father,” she said sadly. “I know I do. It's just hard."
"There must be another choice," John said. "A shelter, perhaps."
"They're always full," she explained. "I've tried before, loads of times. There's nowhere I can go."
"If I found somewhere for you, would you go?"
"Of course, Father. Of course I would. I... I hate living like this," she said, her tone turning hard with desperation. "I hate going out every night just so I can have something to eat the next day."
John didn't know what to say, so he reached out to squeeze her hand. She shook her head and met his worried gaze, sniffing back tears.
"I pray every night for God to help me, Father."
"I pray for you too, Holly."
"Thank you," she whispered.
Soon after, Holly left and John sat in the kitchen for some time, trying to think of a solution. It was such a widespread problem in London and the shelters often were full, but there had to be some way to keep these young people off the streets.
John saw Holly regularly over the next six months, until one Thursday morning she did not come for confession. She had been there every single Thursday since he started and John felt uneasy as soon as the morning passed with no sign of her. By early evening, it felt like his stomach was twisted in a knot. He finally dug out the contact number she had given him several months previously and rang her phone. It rang out and the voicemail clicked on as he hung up. John tried to reassure himself, but by nightfall, after several more attempts to reach Holly, he grabbed his coat and headed out.
John had been to Holly’s flat only once, just the week before, when he had offered to walk her home after she turned up with a bloody lip and a sprained wrist. He hadn't asked, but somehow it had all come out on the way home: the argument she’d had with her pimp when she had threatened to quit, his constant abusive behaviour, her fear. John had been angry, but had been helpless to do anything other than clean her up and bandage her wrist. He had left her with a burning in his throat and a sick feeling in his stomach, and had found himself ringing around shelters first thing the next morning, desperately trying to find a safe place for her to go - with no success.
John reached Holly’s flat and knocked on the door. He knocked again a minute later when there had still been no answer.
“Holly?” he called.
He thumped his fist against the door again, calling her name. A door to the right opened and a middle-aged woman regarded him in silence for a moment before speaking up.
“Haven’t heard her since last night,” the woman said. “She was havin’ a row with some bloke. Lots of banging around and screaming.”
John frowned at the door. He could not leave, not without knowing if Holly was alright. Suddenly, he remembered the key she had retrieved from under the flowerpot next to the door and he bent down, giving a little huff of triumph when he saw the key was there. He quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open, moving slowly into the flat.
His voice echoed in the silence of the tiny hallway and he moved on, passing the empty kitchen and living room. He came to the closed bedroom door and called Holly’s name again. There was still nothing and he pushed the door open and stepped in.
He spotted her feet first, sticking out from behind the end of the bed, and his heart sank. He rushed across the room and froze when he caught sight of her still body, lifeless eyes staring into the darkness.
“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Santi,” John whispered, making the sign of the cross.
“What is it?” the neighbour called out from the doorway, making him jump.
“Call the police,” John answered. “She’s dead.”
The police arrived fifteen minutes later and John sat on the edge of the bed as he explained how he had found the body to a constable. A forensics technician was looking over the body and John watched him for a while before speaking up.
“Petechial haemorraghing in the eyes,” John said quietly. “She was asphyxiated, wasn’t she?”
Both the forensics technician and the constable looked at him in surprise.
“I trained as a doctor, originally,” he explained.
“Well, we’ll have to wait for the autopsy,” the technician said, frowning slightly.
“Okay, what have we got?” a voice said rather loudly from the doorway, startling them.
They all turned towards the door as a silver-haired detective entered the room. The constable quickly moved to his superior and flipped open his notebook.
“Holly James, twenty-five years old -”
“Twenty-six,” John corrected, and the detective turned to John as if just noticing him.
“And you are?” the detective asked with a frown.
“A friend of Holly’s. I found the body.”
The detective looked him up and down for a moment and John wondered if he was being considered as a suspect. He was tempted to unzip his jacket and reveal his collar, but he wasn’t sure it would do him any good. The detective finally turned his attention back to the constable and John sat praying for Holly in silence, his fingers clasped tightly around his rosary.
Several minutes later, a deep voice cut through the low buzz of noise in the flat.
John’s head jerked up in surprise. It sounded just like Sherlock Holmes. A moment later, the man himself appeared in the doorway and John shook his head in disbelief.
“I hope you haven’t moved anything,” Sherlock snapped at the forensics technician, who was just leaving.
“Sherlock, stop terrorising my forensics team,” the detective called, dismissing the constable at the same time.
Sherlock’s gaze finally swept over the room and he froze when he caught sight of John.
“Father?” the detective echoed.
Sherlock glanced at the detective and then rolled his eyes as he turned back to John.
“Not my father, Lestrade. He’s a priest.”
“Hello, Sherlock,” John said with a smile.
“Wait, how do you know a priest?” the detective - Lestrade - asked incredulously.
Five years, John thought, and Sherlock seemed largely unchanged. He was still pale and slim, but he looked healthier now. His wild curls were longer than John had ever seen them, and it made him look even younger than his twenty-seven years.
Sherlock ignored Lestrade’s outburst and turned back to John.
“What are you doing here?”
“I found the body.”
Sherlock eyes lit up and his attention finally turned to the body on the floor. He moved closer and crouched down beside the girl, eyes flicking over her. John watched him in fascination, wondering what he was doing.
“Anything?” Lestrade asked after only a few minutes.
“She was asphyxiated,” Sherlock said, looking quickly up towards the bed and back down to Holly’s body again. “Suffocated with one of those red pillows. She knew her killer, let him in to her home. Things turned nasty, she fought back - defensive wounds on her hands. Passionate attack, probably a boyfriend or -”
“Her pimp,” John interrupted and Sherlock looked up at him in surprise, as if he had forgotten John was even there. He stared at John and then jumped to his feet.
“Of course! Her clothes, those shoes, her make-up. Obvious.”
“Wait, wait,” Lestrade cut in. “She’s a call girl?”
“I did mention it to your constable,” John explained.
Lestrade sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“Really, Lestrade, this is all very pedestrian. I don’t know why you wasted my time.”
Lestrade sighed again and John turned back to Sherlock, who was now watching him intently.
“She was one of yours,” Sherlock said, no question in his tone.
“Yes. She didn’t come to confession this morning. I knew something was wrong. She comes every week.”
Sherlock smiled, mostly to himself, and turned to Lestrade.
“Find the pimp, Lestrade. I’m done here.”
Sherlock turned to John almost expectantly and John glanced at the body.
“I’d like to stay with her until the coroner comes,” John said, looking to the detective for permission.
“Father, I don’t think-”
“You don’t need to protect his sensibilities, Lestrade. He was in Bosnia. I’m sure he’s seen worse.”
John stared at Sherlock in surprise and Sherlock only smiled in reply.
“I’ll wait with you."
Lestrade looked surprised but finally shook his head and disappeared into the hallway, shouting orders at his team. Sherlock moved to the window and stood there in silence, staring out into the street as John prayed, the low murmur of his voice the only sound in the room.
Holly's body was eventually removed and John watched the van go with a heavy heart. Sherlock had remained silent during their vigil but now he spoke up.
"Sorry?" John asked tiredly.
"Would you like a coffee? There's a cafe two streets away that stays open late."
"I'd love one," John said honestly, a little surprised that Sherlock seemed content to linger in his company. He had always thought of himself as nothing more than another source of antagonism, or occasionally a sympathetic ear, at best.
They made their way to the tiny cafe and sat down at a rickety table. They were the only customers in the place, but it seemed nice enough. John sipped at his coffee and watched the man opposite him. And he was a man now, undoubtedly. Even in his early twenties, there had been a childlike quality to Sherlock, but it seemed long gone. For the first time, the thirteen years between them didn't feel like a unfathomable gulf.
"So, you work with the police now?" John asked.
"When they're in over their heads, yes," Sherlock said smugly.
"That was amazing, what you did earlier. How on earth did you know all that?"
"I observed . Just like I observed that you knew her well. And that you were in Bosnia."
"Yes, how did you know that?" John asked. "It was years ago, before the last time I saw you."
Sherlock smiled and tilted his head to one side.
"The last time I saw you, you were wearing a jumper. Dark grey, wool, obviously Eastern European in origin. And it had a Bosnian fleur-de-lis on the chest."
"I could have been on holiday."
"Who goes on holiday to Bosnia? When it's cold enough to need a thick jumper like that?"
John laughed and nodded in agreement.
"Fair point," he conceded.
Sherlock smiled widely, more genuine than John had ever seen him, and John smiled too.
"You look well, Sherlock."
"I've been clean for two years now," Sherlock said seriously.
"I'm glad to hear it," John said.
They fell silent for a while but John could feel Sherlock's eyes on him as he sipped his drink. Sherlock cleared his throat and John looked up.
"I, err, I don't think I've actually ever thanked you. For what you did for me," Sherlock got out awkwardly, eyes flicking between John and the table. "It was - it was good. Thank you."
"I didn't do anything," John said, surprise colouring his voice.
"You were there when I needed someone to just... be there."
Sherlock raised his eyes to John's again.
"And you didn’t judge me."
"It's not my place to judge."
Sherlock gave a low laugh.
"There aren't many priests like you," Sherlock said. "In fact, there aren't many regular people like you."
John smiled and Sherlock turned to look out the window, a faint smirk still on his face. A comfortable silence fell over them and they sat like that until the cafe owner came over to tell them they were closing. Outside, they said their goodbyes and John headed back home, lighthearted despite the awful shock of Holly's murder.
A week after Holly's death and John found himself battling dust bunnies in the sacristy, trying to ascertain if they needed to order more wafers and whether it was worth being lazy and sending one of the older Altar Boys down to Tesco with some petty cash for a fresh wine box. Although John shared many of the duties with the other two priests, he had somehow ended up responsible for replenishing the consumable items needed for Mass. He was just finalising his list for the night when the phone rang. He sank down into his chair and picked up the receiver.
There was no answer, but John could hear breathing and he frowned, thinking it was probably a prank caller.
"Hello?" he said again. "Who is this?"
There was more silence, but just when John was about to hang up, a voice came down the line.
"I was wrong."
“I was wrong,” Sherlock said again, slightly louder, his voice strained.
“Wrong about what?” John asked, confused.
“The girl. Holly.”
“What’s happened?” John said worriedly.
“Two more girls are dead,” Sherlock murmured. “It wasn’t the pimp, obviously.”
“Sherlock, are you alright?”
He didn’t sound alright - he sounded like he was on the verge of a breakdown.
“I don’t make mistakes. Not like this.”
“Everyone makes mistakes.”
“I don’t,” Sherlock said sharply. “I don’t miss something like this. I don’t. How could this have happened?”
“Sherlock, where are you?” John asked, worry creeping into his voice.
"26A Montague Street,” Sherlock said after a small pause.
“I’m coming over.”
“Really, John, you don’t-”
“I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Before Sherlock could protest, John said goodbye and hung up. Something in Sherlock’s voice had him on edge, worried about what the man might do. He hadn’t heard Sherlock so dejected since he was a boy.
Just over twenty minutes later, John jumped out of the taxi and made his way to the front door of the converted house where Sherlock lived. He rang the bell and was buzzed in straight away, making his way quickly along a dark hallway to Sherlock’s flat. He knocked on the door and it opened under the force, letting a crack of light out onto the landing. He went in and closed the door behind him, calling out for Sherlock.
“In here,” Sherlock answered from a room just off the entrance.
John rounded the doorway and stopped as he got his first look at Sherlock. The younger man looked a mess, clothes rumpled and hair mussed. He was sitting on the sofa, staring at the small table in front of him. Sitting in the middle of the table was a small bottle of clear liquid, and next to that a syringe in a sealed wrapper.
Sherlock didn’t look at him, but he did let out a shaky breath.
“I wish you didn't have to see this,” he said softly, and raised his eyes. “But I’m glad you came.”
“It’s not your fault, Sherlock.”
“Of course it is!” Sherlock burst out, fisting his hands in his hair. “I missed the clues. So obvious!”
John wasn’t sure what to do and he hesitated in the doorway.
“Let me make you some tea,” John offered.
Sherlock laughed and rubbed his hand over his face.
“I could use something a bit stronger than that.”
“What have you got in?”
“Whiskey. In the cupboard next to the fridge,” Sherlock said with a wave towards the other room.
John’s gaze flicked between Sherlock and the table, but he finally turned and went into the kitchen. He found the bottle of whiskey, dug out a couple of glasses, and made his way back to the main room. Sherlock was staring out of the window now, his whole frame tense.
John placed the glasses down next to the syringe and poured a drink for each of them.
“Here,” he called, holding out a glass to Sherlock. “Drink.”
“Are you supposed to encourage drinking, Father?” Sherlock asked with a tentative smile as he took the glass.
“If it’s the lesser of two evils, yes,” John answered. “And I think you’ve known me long enough to call me John, don’t you?”
"John," Sherlock repeated with a small smile, tipping his glass towards John in faint salute before taking a large mouthful.
John settled on the sofa next to Sherlock and took a sip of his own drink. Sherlock was fiddling with his glass, his eyes on the floor.
"Have they caught the killer then?" John asked.
"She handed herself in."
"A colleague of Holly's, I suppose you could say. Apparently she was jealous of the younger girls. She had some sort of mental health problem, so I hear, and she turned on them."
John didn't say anything, taking another sip of his drink as he tried to banish the image of Holly's dead body from his mind. The fact that another two girls had suffered the same fate made it even harder. John crossed himself almost instinctively and glanced up to see Sherlock watching him.
"I was under the impression there weren’t many priests who would pray for dead prostitutes."
"I think we've already established that I'm not like a lot of other priests."
"Saint John has a nice ring to it," Sherlock commented sarcastically.
"Well, it will be a miracle if I can get you to see that you're human, just like the rest of us, and therefore quite capable of making human mistakes."
Sherlock regarded him with a pinched expression and then dropped his head, letting out a sigh.
"Here, have another drink," John said, grabbing the bottle and pouring Sherlock another generous measure.
Sherlock sipped his drink slowly, his face turned slightly away from John.
"Are you disappointed in me?" he asked quietly, giving a little nod in the direction of the objects on the table.
"No, Sherlock. The fact that it's sitting on the table and not running through your bloodstream right now says something, don't you think?"
Sherlock said nothing, but John saw him bite his lip.
"Do you need me to get rid of it?" John asked.
"Please," Sherlock breathed.
"Are you going to be alright?" John said as he got to his feet. Sherlock turned to him and nodded shakily.
"Are you sure? I can stay if you want me to."
"I'll be fine," Sherlock said with a weak smile.
"Try and get some sleep," John said, gathering up the bottle and packet and slipping them into his pocket. Sherlock's eyes followed his movements, and when the objects were out of sight, some of the tension seemed to leave his body.
"And go easy on the whiskey," John added with a smile.
"Yes, doctor ."
They shared a smile and Sherlock rose to his feet.
"Thank you, John."
"Anytime," John answered, resting a hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "I mean it."
Sherlock walked him to the door and they said their goodbyes. John left feeling drained, but relieved, his hand wrapped around the objects in his pocket.
Chapter 4: Scatter The Darkness
Sherlock Holmes is everything Father John Watson should probably disapprove of. He's an atheist, a rationalist, an addict, and gay. But none of those things is enough to stop him from being the most fascinating person John's ever met.
Something changed that night. At least it must have done because John suddenly found Sherlock becoming a regular visitor to the church. Sometimes he stopped by to talk to John; at other times he merely sat amongst the empty pews in silence, deep in thought. He told John that he found it easier to think without the distractions he found at home. John was just glad to see him bounce back after the incident with Holly.
At least once a week, John would coax Sherlock to eat dinner with him. Sometimes one or both of the other priests would join them and, on those occasions, Sherlock would remain uncharacteristically silent. When it was just the two of them, though, Sherlock would launch into long stories about recent cases, or would talk at length about experiments he had been doing. John would often just listen intently and watch him with a bemused smile.
Sherlock often treated John to similar monologues on his visits. John would go about whatever he was doing and Sherlock would hover nearby, talking more to himself than to John half of the time. Eventually, Sherlock's voice seemed to become a familiar background noise in John's life.
After a while, Sherlock even started turning up at times any normal person would think unsociable. The first time John retired for the night, only to find Sherlock in his bedroom, he’d almost had a heart attack. Once he had calmed down, he’d glared at Sherlock, who looked to be quite at home in the wingback chair by the window.
"How did you get in here?"
"Drainpipe," Sherlock said in an almost bored tone as he waved towards the window.
"And why didn't you come through the door like a normal person?"
"I didn't want to disturb you while you talking with Father Lawrence. And I didn't want to make small talk with Father Simon."
John rolled his eyes and sank onto the end of his bed.
"You really shouldn't be climbing into my room at night. People will talk."
"People do little else," Sherlock replied. "Anyway, Father Simon already thinks we're having an affair."
"What?!" John exclaimed, his voice sounding shrill even to his own ears. "Why?"
"Because he's an idiot," Sherlock said dismissively.
"How could he think that I - that we -" John choked out, completely dumbfounded by the idea.
"I told you, he's an idiot," Sherlock said, levelling his gaze on John. "Anyone who's known you for more than five minutes can see how devoted you are to the Church. And how seriously you take your vows. To think you would so carelessly break them for something as base as sexual gratification is simply ludicrous."
John could only stare at Sherlock for a minute, stunned by the thorough dissection of his personality. He had heard Sherlock do exactly this a hundred times, but it felt different when he was the target.
"Well, yes," John finally got out. "Exactly."
"So you don't need to worry about it," Sherlock said with a meaningful look at John.
"No. No, I just... Why on earth would he even think that?"
"He's young and still obsessed with sex the way all virgins are. Closeted homosexual, too. That’s why he’s so very desperate to conform to every single word of the Bible,” Sherlock explained with a half-smile. “You know my thoughts on the vow of celibacy. I think this proves my point quite nicely."
John was still a little thrown, but he finally shook it off to give Sherlock a smile.
"Let's not get into that argument again."
"Agreed," Sherlock said, returning his smile as he pushed himself to his feet. "Well, I'd better be on my way."
"Sorry, what? Was there actually a reason you climbed into my bedroom at gone ten in the evening?"
"No, no particular reason," Sherlock replied with an amiable smile. "Goodnight, John."
John watched him climb out of the window with a look of bewilderment, and only moved to close it once that dark head had dropped out of view.
"Sherlock Holmes, you are a very strange man," he murmured to himself.
Sherlock's late-night visits didn't stop after that first night, despite John's continued protests. The visits were not all meaningless though, and more than once Sherlock had turned up with an injury of some sort and asked for John's medical expertise. John was happy to help, especially since Sherlock had recently admitted to a fervent dislike of hospitals.
One night, John was woken by the sound of knocking on his bedroom window. He looked around blearily, and started when he spotted the figure looming outside. He flung himself out of bed to open the window and was about to give Sherlock a lecture on appropriate visiting times, when he spotted the blood trickling down the side of Sherlock's face.
"Get in here," he said. "What have you done now?"
Sherlock managed to get through the window, but as soon as he straightened, it was clear that his shoulder was injured too.
"Just a cut," Sherlock said sheepishly, letting John guide him into the chair. "And, well, a dislocated shoulder."
"Sherlock," John said reproachfully.
"It's not that bad. It’s been dislocated before. I can usually get it back in myself, but I seem to be having some trouble."
John rolled his eyes but moved to fetch the first aid kit that he now kept in his wardrobe for incidents just like this. When he turned back, Sherlock was trying to get his jacket off - with little success. John set the kit down and helped Sherlock out of his coat.
"Shirt too," John told him, and Sherlock frowned. "You can barely move in that shirt. Off, now."
Sherlock scowled at him but started to unbutton his shirt anyway and, with John's help, managed to get it off. John gently probed around his shoulder and Sherlock hissed in pain.
"You really should go to a hospital."
"You're more than qualified to do this, John," Sherlock said. "Just get on with it. Please."
"Okay," John said gently. "Deep breaths. Are you ready?"
John rested one hand on Sherlock's shoulder and gripped his wrist with the other, bending his arm in towards his torso. He met Sherlock's gaze and Sherlock gave him a quick nod, his teeth clenched together. John gently guided his arm up and around, and with a small pop the shoulder slid back into place. Sherlock hissed and reached out to rub his neck. John continued to gently rotate the shoulder for a while, before pulling away with a careful pat.
Sherlock nodded, moving his shoulder in small circles.
"Right, I'll clean up this cut, then I'll get you some painkillers."
Sherlock sat quietly through John's ministrations and then took the painkillers that John gave him gratefully.
"Good as new," John said once he was done and Sherlock gave him a weak smile. "Now, time to get some sleep. Up you get."
Sherlock let John guide him to his feet, but when John started pushing him towards the bed, he came to a halt.
“What are you doing?”
"You're staying here."
"Excuse me?" Sherlock said.
"You heard me. I’m not letting you climb down that drainpipe again with a dodgy shoulder. Get your shoes off and get into bed."
Sherlock turned to stare at him for a moment, but finally made his way hesitantly to John's small bed.
"Where are you going to sleep?" Sherlock asked, sitting on the edge of the bed and toeing his shoes off as John went to the cupboard to find some more blankets.
"In the chair."
"It's fine. I was in the Army, remember?" John said with a smile. “Now lie down and go to sleep.”
Sherlock scowled at him but lay down, careful not to jolt his bad shoulder as John sank into the chair, pulling the blankets around himself. He shifted around a bit until he was comfortable, and then let out a yawn, already feeling the pull of sleep.
"Me, sleeping in your bed. People really will talk."
John laughed and turned onto his side, making himself more comfortable.
Sherlock was gone before John woke the next morning. He reappeared again in the late afternoon while John was putting away some freshly laundered altar cloths in the sacristy.
"Here," Sherlock said, thrusting a mobile phone into John's hand.
"It's a mobile phone, John. Obviously."
"Yes, I know it's a mobile phone,” John said. “Why are you giving it to me?"
"I might need to contact you in an emergency."
"What, like an ‘I've fallen down a fire escape’ kind of emergency?" John said, smiling. "Sherlock, I can't take this."
"Of course you can," Sherlock replied.
"You do remember that I've taken a vow of poverty, don't you?"
"It's a gift. It doesn't count."
"Doesn't really work like that," John said, holding the phone out to Sherlock. “If you’re donating it to the parish I’m very grateful, we could certainly make use of it, but I’m rather duty-bound to share it with Father Lawrence and Father Simon.”
"Don't be so insufferable,” Sherlock said. “Take the phone."
"Please. Consider it on loan, if it makes you feel better."
John felt uneasy but he finally gave in with a nod and slid the phone into his pocket.
The phone Sherlock had given John the day before sat on his bedside table, buzzing away every few minutes. John paid it no attention. He felt numb, stunned into a daze by the news he had just received. His sister, Harry, had been killed in a car accident. He found himself so thrown that he couldn't even find the words to pray for her, his rosary hanging uselessly between his hands. He had retreated to his room as soon as he’d finished the call with the hospital and he had been sitting there for at least an hour already, staring at his bedroom floor.
The phone buzzed again and John spared it a glance, but could not bring himself to read the text - or any of the others Sherlock had sent him in the last forty minutes. He felt dizzy and lightheaded, and for a minute he thought he might have imagined the knock at his window. He looked over just as Sherlock knocked on the glass again and sighed, putting his rosary down on the bedside table and running his hands over his face before getting to his feet to let Sherlock in.
"Why aren't you answering my texts?" Sherlock demanded as soon as he was in the room.
"Sherlock, this really isn't a... good time."
Sherlock froze and turned to watch John as he sank onto the bed once more.
"John? What's wrong?"
"Sherlock, please. I just-"
John broke off into a choked sob that he quickly tried to stop, pressing his hand to his mouth.
"John," Sherlock said in a strained voice.
"I'm sorry, I-"
Now he had started, John couldn't stop crying and he hunched over, the balls of his hands pressed to his eyes. The bed dipped beside him as Sherlock sat down, but John still couldn't bring himself to stop.
"John," Sherlock whispered, and John felt the weight of his hand settle on his back.
For so long, John had been the one to give comfort to others - a short prayer, a hand on the shoulder - and he had almost forgotten what it felt like to be on the receiving end. He found himself leaning into Sherlock, his body shaking as he fought to stop his sobs.
"John, please," Sherlock whispered, his arm tightening around John. "I can't bear to see you like this."
John tried to get out an apology, but it came out as an incoherent noise as he sagged even more against Sherlock. Sherlock hugged him harder, his warm breath against the back of John’s neck.
“John, tell me what to do. What can I do?”
John shook his head, wiping his eyes with his hands. He was trying desperately to calm himself down and he sat up a little, turning to face Sherlock.
Sherlock looked almost distraught and his hand clenched tightly around John’s shoulder. John wiped his hand over his eyes again, embarrassed. Sherlock brushed his thumb over John’s damp cheek and John started at the touch, eyes flying up to meet Sherlock’s concerned gaze. A moment later, Sherlock pressed his lips to John’s and John jumped backwards in shock. Sherlock’s eyes instantly flew wide with horror and he stumbled to his feet.
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock got out quickly, his voice panicked.
“Sherlock-” John started, but Sherlock cut him off.
“It was a mistake. I’m sorry. I- I’ll go. Leave you alone.”
Before John could even say anything, Sherlock had fled from the room, choosing the door instead of his usual exit in his haste. The door swung shut behind him and John stared after him in astonishment, tears brought to a rapid halt by his surprise.
Chapter 5: We Cannot Measure How You Heal
It was several days before John could even begin to consider what to do about Sherlock. He had a funeral to arrange and attend, as well as his usual duties, and if he was honest with himself he had avoided thinking about it as much as possible. John had lived in a sexless world for close to twenty years and to suddenly be confronted by the idea that someone might be attracted to him made him strangely uncomfortable. Especially when that person was Sherlock. As long as John had known him, Sherlock had never appeared to have much interest in relationships and, frankly, John couldn’t imagine it. Sherlock’s devotion to his work seemed to eclipse matters of such intense personal interest. The worst thing about all of it though was that John, knowing Sherlock as well as he did, could easily imagine that Sherlock would react to this incident by distancing himself from John and he couldn’t bear the thought of that happening, not when they had grown so close.
There was nothing for it but to talk to Sherlock. He hadn't been by the church in a week, and John couldn't just sit around waiting for him to show up. Instead, he set out for Montague Street on one of his free afternoons.
John knocked on the door of Sherlock's flat several times, and called his name, but there was no answer. He wasn't sure if Sherlock was genuinely out, or just hiding. Either way, he wasn't sure what his next step should be and he lingered by the door.
He was startled by the sudden buzzing coming from his pocket and rushed to pull the phone out. Someone was ringing him - number withheld - and he answered, expecting it to be Sherlock.
"I'm afraid not, Father," Mycroft Holmes said with all his usual officious charm. "I thought you might be interested to know that my brother has taken up residence elsewhere."
John looked around the empty landing in surprise, wondering if Mycroft knew exactly where he was.
"Indeed. He's now living at 221b Baker Street."
"Good luck, Father. You’ll probably need it."
John waited for Mycroft to say something else, but instead he hung up and John frowned as he put the phone back in his pocket. He didn't like the idea that Mycroft knew more than he was letting on. Nevertheless, he had somewhere else to look for Sherlock now and he made his way back out into the street.
John knocked on the black door of 221b Baker Street and waited for an answer. After only a few moments, the door opened and an older lady poked her head around the door.
"Oh, hello. I'm, err, I'm looking for Sherlock Holmes."
The woman's face brightened instantly and she ushered him in with a smile.
"Come in, come in. Are you a client?"
"Oh, no. A friend."
"Even better! He's been so grumpy since he moved in. Moping about all day,” she said with a sigh. “Go on up. Straight up the stairs."
The woman shuffled away and John climbed the stairs slowly. The door at the top stood open, revealing a messy living room. As soon as John reached the door he spotted Sherlock, sprawled on the sofa in pyjamas and a blue dressing gown.
"Mrs. Hudson, have you seen-"
Sherlock twisted round and came to an abrupt stop when he saw John in the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" he said sourly, turning his back on John. A moment later, he gave a disgusted huff in realisation. "Mycroft."
"I didn't realise you were moving," John said casually, moving a bit further into the room.
"It wasn't planned," Sherlock answered shortly.
John hummed, looking around at the highly decorative wallpaper, the slightly battered furniture and Sherlock's scattered belongings.
"Why are you here, John?" Sherlock said tiredly.
When John turned to him, Sherlock had his eyes fixed deliberately on the window. He was visibly tense and when John settled into one of the armchairs he seemed to stiffen even more.
"I, err, I've been a little busy," John said conversationally. "I had to go to Edinburgh, for my sister's funeral."
Sherlock glanced at him quickly, but turned back to the window again.
A moment passed in awkward silence and John twisted his fingers together nervously.
“Sherlock, I think we need to talk about what happened.”
“I’d rather not,” Sherlock said.
“I understand that, but-”
“Do you really?” Sherlock asked caustically. “I highly doubt it. You priests are always obsessed with talking about it . Quite frankly, Father , I don’t have any pressing urge to confess my sins.”
“Have you committed a sin then?”
“Your Church is pretty clear on its views of a man loving another man.”
John froze and Sherlock seemed to realise his mistake almost instantly. His eyes flew to John, that panicked look back on his face.
“I’ve said too much,” he said in a tight voice.
“No. No, I just... I thought... I didn’t know-”
John couldn't get the words out, falling instead into stunned silence. He had suspected it was just physical attraction and now he was thrown.
“Forget it,” Sherlock said angrily. “Just delete it.”
“I said, I don’t want to talk about it,” Sherlock snapped, wrapping his dressing gown tighter around himself. “You don’t need to say anything. I’m quite aware how idiotic it is.”
“I’m going away,” Sherlock said, cutting him off again, his gaze still deliberately turned away from John. “To the house in France.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Yes. I need... space.”
John sighed, watching the side of Sherlock’s face. He looked absolutely miserable.
“How long will you be gone for?”
“I don’t know.”
John didn’t know what to say - didn’t think there was anything he could say that Sherlock would want to hear. He got somewhat shakily to his feet, looking around the flat once more.
“And you’ll be living here, when you get back?”
“It’s nice,” he repeated with a faint smile. “If a bit messy.”
Sherlock said nothing and John moved to the door, lingering awkwardly.
“You didn’t burn the other place down, did you?” he teased, hoping to lighten the mood.
“What did Mycroft tell you?” Sherlock got out, spinning around to face him.
“Nothing,” John replied with an incredulous laugh. “You didn’t, did you?”
“No,” Sherlock said as he turned back, but he was fighting a smile. “Not quite.”
John laughed and, after a moment’s hesitation, stepped forward to rest his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock’s eyes flew to his, his expression pained.
“God be with you, Sherlock. Whatever happens, you know you’ll still be my friend.”
John stepped away again, but paused in the doorway as Sherlock spoke up.
“Do you still pray for me?”
“Pray harder. I need all the help I can get.”
For a moment John was stunned, but then he smiled softly.
The first few weeks of Sherlock’s absence seemed to fly by - it was Easter, after all, arguably the busiest point on the Church calendar. Once the hubbub had died away though, and they had returned to their usual routine, John began to feel the loss of Sherlock’s company. He had become so used to Sherlock’s voice as a background to what he was doing - used to Sherlock appearing in his bedroom at all hours of the night - that he felt a little lost, and he knew that his fellow priests could tell.
“Are you alright, John?” Father Lawrence finally asked one evening after dinner. Simon had already retired for the evening, leaving just the two of them.
“I’m fine,” John reassured him.
“You seem a bit... troubled.”
“It’s nothing,” John said, even though he was tempted to tell Lawrence the whole thing. They had grown quite friendly in the time they had been working together, and John knew he could rely on Lawrence’s confidence.
“Haven’t seen Sherlock around for a while,” Lawrence commented with a knowing look and John stared at him for a moment, before shaking his head and dropping into the nearest chair.
“Away?” Lawrence prompted, taking his own seat next to John.
“France. His family has a house there.”
“I sense that it wasn’t a spontaneous holiday.”
“No,” John said quietly, holding the other priest’s gaze for a moment before looking away, slightly embarrassed. “He - Sherlock - he has feelings for me. Non-platonic feelings. Apparently.”
“Ah. I wondered if it’d come out at some point,” Lawrence said, and John’s eyes flew to his in astonishment. Lawrence laughed and laid a hand on John’s shoulder. “Oh, come on. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, John. He’s fascinated by you. Why do you think he comes here all the time? It’s certainly not for Simon’s sparkling company. Why else would he sneak into your room at night?”
“You- you knew?” John got out. “Lawrence, you have to know-”
“I know it was innocent, John,” Lawrence reassured him. “No matter what Simon tries to insinuate.”
John sighed and ran his hand over his face.
“What am I going to do?”
“I think a bit of space will do you both good,” Lawrence said. “You were spending a lot of time together.”
“I’ve been an idiot, haven’t I?”
“Of course not. Spending time with Sherlock has been good for him, from what you've told me." Lawrence said reasonably. "It’s obvious you care about him a lot.”
“I do. I’m just worried he’s not going to want anything to do with me now because of this.”
“Give him his space,” Lawrence said softly. “He cares about you. He just cares a bit too much, right now. He needs time to work out what’s most important.”
John hummed in agreement, but he still felt pessimistic.
“It’ll be alright,” Lawrence assured him, and John couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re welcome. Now, I’m off to bed. Goodnight, John.”
Lawrence got to his feet but paused, squeezing John’s shoulder again.
“And stop worrying about it.”
John smiled again and Lawrence left him alone to contemplate what he had said.
Sherlock was gone for over a month in all. He reappeared again on a dreary Tuesday afternoon, turning up at the kitchen door with a hesitant smile.
“Sherlock!” John greeted him with a pleased smile, ushering him in.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” Sherlock said, smiling wider in the face of John’s enthusiasm. “I brought you something.”
He handed John a small bag and John took it, opening it up with a laugh to find a bottle of French red wine.
“I thought you might like a change from that dross you get from Tesco.”
“I’ll have to hide it from the others,” John joked. “But thank you.”
There was a moment of awkward silence, before John spoke up again.
“Will you stay for dinner?”
“I can’t,” Sherlock said. “I have plans.”
“Err, no. Dinner, actually,” Sherlock explained with a wry smile. “An old friend from university.”
“Ah, fair enough.”
Sherlock seemed to consider for a moment, and then glanced up at John.
“Why don’t you come to Baker Street tomorrow, for lunch. There’s a case I’d really like to talk to you about.”
“Alright,” John agreed happily. “What time?”
Sherlock smiled and fiddled nervously with his cuffs.
“Well, I’d better be going. Don’t want to be late.”
“Have fun,” John said, and Sherlock gave him a strange look but shook it off immediately. John showed him to the door and they exchanged an awkward goodbye. John shut the door behind Sherlock and leaned against it briefly, thinking that their first meeting could have been a lot worse.
John was a little early at Baker Street the next morning, but he didn’t think it would be a problem. The same older lady, Mrs. Hudson, let him in with a smile of recognition and pointed him up the stairs once more. He could hear a faint murmur of voices, but at first he couldn’t see any sign of Sherlock in the living room. He turned towards the kitchen and froze in surprise. Sherlock was pressed up against the counter, kissing a blonde-haired man. John must have made some sort of noise, because Sherlock suddenly pulled away, eyes flying to John’s.
“Sorry,” John got out. “I, err, I’ll wait-”
“No, it’s fine,” Sherlock said quickly. “Victor was just leaving anyway.”
John turned his back to give them some privacy, focusing his attention on the scientific journals scattered over the coffee table. He heard murmurs behind him and then a door opening and shutting, and finally Sherlock cleared his throat. John turned back to find Sherlock watching him with a taut expression, his dressing gown drawn tight around him.
“I’ll just go get dressed,” Sherlock said awkwardly, before disappearing through the kitchen into his bedroom. John settled into one of the armchairs and picked up a journal, idly flicking through it as he waited for Sherlock to return.
Sherlock emerged only a few minutes later in a shirt and trousers, looking for all the world like he was expecting a scolding. John put down the journal and smiled as Sherlock lingered in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.
“Friend?” he commented with a raised eyebrow.
Sherlock’s eyes widened slightly, but then he schooled his expression.
“Well, when I say ‘friend’...”
“He seems nice. Very, err, attractive.”
“You don’t need to patronise me, John,” Sherlock said with a hint of anger in his tone.
“I wasn’t,” John protested.
“Will you just sit down already?” John said teasingly. “You’re making me nervous, looming like that.”
Sherlock gave him a weak smile, and finally settled in the armchair opposite John.
“Now, tell me about this case?”
"How's Sherlock?" Lawrence asked when John returned home later that afternoon.
"He seems okay. It's a little awkward," John admitted, slipping his coat off.
"To be expected."
"Yeah," John agreed, hanging the coat up behind the door. "He's got himself a boyfriend, I think."
"Well, that's good, isn't it?"
"Yes," John murmured absently. "Yes, it is."
Chapter 6: The World Is Very Evil
Life seemed to return to normal. John went about his duties, Sherlock solved all manner of complicated cases, and any awkwardness between them disappeared over the course of time. Victor made an appearance every now and again, but Sherlock never really talked about him.
Summer arrived eventually and the house came alive with the sound of Lawrence's old radio as he listened to cricket matches that went on for hours, interspersed with the odd BBC drama or the news. It was a pleasant background buzz that John mostly ignored.
He was making breakfast one morning, not really listening to the radio, when Lawrence spoke up.
"Doesn't Sherlock live on Baker Street?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Why?"
"Weren't you listening just then? There's been a massive explosion."
"What?" John got out.
"A whole house gutted."
John was already pulling his coat on.
"He's blown himself up, that idiot!" he exclaimed. "Sorry, Lawrence, I've got to run."
Baker Street was in chaos when John got there, filled with emergency workers and curious onlookers. It was actually the house opposite 221b that had been ripped apart by the explosion, but at a glance John could see that the windows of Sherlock’s flat were boarded over, presumably damaged by the blast.
Mrs. Hudson let him in as usual and left him to make his way up the stairs, mumbling under her breath about how dangerous the world was becoming. John rushed into the living room, letting out a sigh of relief when he saw Sherlock sitting in a chair, unharmed.
"Thank God, you're okay."
It was then that John noticed the elder Holmes sitting in the other chair and he gave him a polite smile.
"Well, I'll be going," Mycroft said, rising to his feet. "Think it over, Sherlock. This case is of national importance."
"I told you, I'm busy."
"Don't make me order you."
"I'd like to see you try," Sherlock returned defiantly.
Mycroft let out a sigh and moved to place a file on the coffee table, before straightening and directing a smile at John.
"So nice to see you, Father."
"How kind of you to take such a personal interest in Sherlock."
"Goodbye, Mycroft," Sherlock bit out.
Mycroft gave an exasperated smile and then with a nod, he was gone. John turned to Sherlock and quirked an eyebrow.
"My brother's too lazy to do his own legwork so he wants me to do it for him."
John laughed quietly and moved further into the room, eyes flicking over the damaged windows and back to Sherlock.
"You weren't hurt?"
"Hmm? Oh, no."
"Gas leak, apparently."
John let out a huff as he settled in the armchair Mycroft had vacated.
“I thought you’d blown yourself up,” he admitted with a smile.
“I don’t know where you’d get a ridiculous idea like that from,” Sherlock said, fighting a smile.
“No, me neither,” John teased, and they both burst out laughing.
The very next morning Sherlock appeared at the church. John spotted him as he arrived, but when Sherlock settled in a pew right at the back, John left him to it. The expression on Sherlock’s face suggested that he was lost in his own head and John had quickly learnt not to even try talking to him when he was like that.
Some time later, after John had finished dithering with the ladies in charge of the church flowers, he headed over to sit next to Sherlock. The other man was still deep in thought, head bowed and hands pressed together. Despite this, he looked up as John settled next to him.
“You look like you’re doing some very serious thinking,” John commented. “Mycroft’s case giving you trouble?”
“No, not Mycroft’s case. Something much better,” Sherlock murmured distractedly. He fell silent for a few moments, but then spoke up again, turning towards John.
“What do you know about botulinum toxin?”
“Nasty stuff,” John replied, trying to recall medical textbooks from twenty years ago. “I still can’t believe people would want to inject it into their faces.”
Sherlock frowned and then, almost instantly, his eyes wide went with realisation.
“Oh. Yes, of course. John, you are a genius!”
Sherlock was already on his feet and John quickly shifted out of his way.
“Thank you!” Sherlock called after him as he rushed from the church.
John stared after him for a moment, but then shook his head and rose to return to his duties. It wasn’t the first time Sherlock had had a sudden case-related epiphany and run off, and John was pretty well used to it by now.
When John finally made his way to bed late that night, he was surprised to find Sherlock waiting. Since Sherlock had inadvertently revealed his feelings for John, he had very pointedly stayed away from John’s room, so John wasn’t sure what might have brought him there. He didn’t look to be injured, but he did look troubled, and in fact he was so distracted that he didn’t even notice John until he called his name.
“Oh, John,” he said, raising his gaze from the floor.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Sherlock replied, but he didn’t sound very convincing as he fiddled with a pink phone, twirling it round in his hands. “A woman died today.”
In Sherlock’s world, a dead body was often a cause for celebration, but he was anything but excited.
“What happened?” John asked.
“Did you hear about that explosion in a block of flats, in Glasgow? Twelve people dead?”
“Yeah, I heard. Gas leak, wasn’t it?”
Sherlock laughed sourly and shook his head.
“A bomb?” John echoed. “Was it terrorists?”
“Not in the traditional sense. More like a message.”
“You’re involved then?”
“Yes. You see, it’s all for me. A game for my benefit.”
There was a pleased note in Sherlock’s voice that made John frown.
“Doesn’t seem like a very fun game,” John said.
Sherlock met his eyes again and sobered a little.
“No, I suppose not. It was, at the start. But now people are dying.”
John stayed silent, waiting for Sherlock to explain.
“This bomber, whoever they are, they take people off the street - at random - and strap them to some sort of explosive device. Then they’re made to call me. I get a clue and a deadline. If I don’t solve the puzzle in time, the hostage dies.”
John felt a wave of nausea at the sheer inhumanity of this bomber’s ‘game’. It made him feel a little sicker when Sherlock smiled widely.
“It was exhilarating. And I was brilliant.”
“What happened this time?” John asked tightly, subtly trying to remind Sherlock that it obviously wasn’t all fun and games.
“I solved the puzzle,” Sherlock said. “But when the woman rang to say I was right, and she could be rescued, she started to describe the man who took her...”
“So she was killed,” John guessed, his heart sinking. “And the explosion took out half a tower block.”
“Yes,” Sherlock said quietly, his excitement thankfully gone for the moment.
“And what now?” John asked, wondering how many more innocent people would have to suffer.
“Two more pips.”
“Five pips to start with. One pip for each hostage, each clue.”
“What are you going to do?” John asked.
“The only thing I can do. Keep playing the game.”
“Just remember it’s not a game for the people strapped to a bomb,” John said in a strained voice.
Sherlock looked suitably chastised for a moment, but then the pink phone beeped and his eyes lit up.
“I have to go,” he said, excitement back in his voice as he got to his feet.
“Be careful,” John called, as Sherlock climbed out the window.
Sherlock smirked, and then he was gone.
Thursday morning came round and, as usual, John held Confession. At the very end of his allocated time, just as he was about to leave the booth, someone entered the other side. John sat back down and waited for them to speak.
“Forgive me, Father,” a soft voice said - not one he recognised. “...For I am about to sin.”
“Excuse me?” John blurted out, not sure he had heard correctly. “Did you just say-”
“Oh, yes,” the voice said with a laugh.
Suddenly the door to John’s side of the booth flew open and he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun, which was being held by a very burly, fair-haired man in a suit.
“If you’ll just come with us, Father John,” the voice from the other side of the booth said. “There’s a good boy.”
John rose shakily to his feet and stepped forward. The man with the gun grabbed him and held a cloth to his mouth. John didn’t even try to struggle as he was pulled into unconsciousness.
The next thing John knew, he was being forced into a vest weighed down with explosives by the burly man from earlier. He felt disoriented from whatever they had used to knock him out and wasn’t sure where he was, or what exactly was going to happen. It was obvious he had been chosen as the next victim in the bomber’s game, and he only hoped Sherlock could save him in time. He was given an earpiece and told to repeat exactly what he was told. If he deviated, he would be killed.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice speak up from not very far away, the sound echoing strangely.
“Brought you a little getting-to-know-you present,” Sherlock called.
The burly man opened a door and gave John a firm shove. John stumbled out, overwhelmed by the smell of chlorine as he found himself in a large hall with a swimming pool. Sherlock turned to face him, his expression falling as his eyes flicked over the vest around John’s torso.
A red dot appeared over John’s chest and he let out a shocked breath as a voice - the same from earlier - spoke through the earpiece.
“Hello, Sherlock. This is a turn-up, isn’t it? You, me, and your favourite priest,” John repeated helplessly.
“Let him go,” Sherlock said angrily, eyes scanning the room.
“Where would be the fun in that? Don’t you want to spend some quality time with Father John before he dies a rather messy death?”
The voice in John’s ear laughed as John took a long, shaky breath. It all seemed to become clear - he was going to die here, caught in the middle of Sherlock’s game with a psychopath. Would this be the end of Sherlock too? The thought made his breath catch in his throat.
“Who are you?” Sherlock called. “Show yourself.”
“Priests are such wonderfully vile creatures, don’t you think?,” the voice said from somewhere towards the back of the hall. John could hear footsteps but he didn’t dare move, instead focusing his attention on Sherlock, who seemed to be watching the man intently.
“Jim Moriarty,” the man said. “Hi!”
“What do you want?” Sherlock asked, his hands hovering near his pockets.
“Tut tut, Sherlock. Is that a British Army Browning L981 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
Sherlock drew a gun out of his pocket and pointed it in the direction of the other man as John took a faltering breath, the reality of the situation hitting him again. He heard footsteps once more and all of a sudden, he realised that Moriarty was at his side. John froze, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. He was about the same height as John and was dressed in a suit that looked, if it were possible, even smarter than Sherlock’s. He also looked incredibly smug as he turned to John and smiled widely.
“On your knees.”
John started and Moriarty smiled even more, his eyes wide with venomous glee.
“On your knees, Father. Or I’ll be forced to put a hole through your pretty little head.”
John sank unsteadily to the floor, watching as the red dot followed him down. He swallowed hard, keeping his eyes lowered.
“Now, I think you’d better say a little prayer for all of us,” Moriarty said. “There’s a good chance we might not get out of here alive, and I’d hate to think we’d missed the chance to be redeemed, wouldn’t you, Sherlock?”
John was silent, tongue-tied out of fear and confusion.
“I don’t hear praying!” Moriarty sing-songed and John shuddered at the almost manic tone of his voice. “Come on now, Father John. Our Father, who art in Heaven...”
“Our Father,” John got out shakily. “Who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy name.”
Moriarty shifted away as John stuttered through the Lord’s prayer, and John glanced up from under his eyelashes as he approached Sherlock.
“Now, Sherlock, what are we going to do about this little problem? You see, you’re getting in my way.”
John wasn’t sure what prompted him to do something so reckless, but in a flash he threw himself forward, aiming for the back of Moriarty’s legs. Almost as if he was expecting it, Moriarty sidestepped his attack with a high-pitched laugh.
“Oh, good!” he exclaimed. “I see why you like him so much.”
Moriarty looked down at John as he scrambled to his knees once more.
“That wasn’t very clever,” Moriarty said smugly, nodding towards Sherlock.
John looked on in horror as a red dot flickered to life right in the middle of Sherlock’s forehead. Sherlock faltered for just a second, but then he steadied himself, the gun still pointed at Moriarty
“Do you know what happens if you don’t leave me alone, Sherlock? To you?”
“Oh, let me guess,” Sherlock said sarcastically. “I get killed.”
“Kill you? No, don’t be obvious,” the man reproached. “I mean, I’m going to kill you anyway, some day. I don’t want to rush it though. I’m saving it up for something special.”
The man left a dramatic pause and then took another step closer.
“If you don’t stop prying, I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.”
“I’ve been reliably informed I don’t have one,” Sherlock said nonchalantly.
“I think we both know that’s not quite true.”
Sherlock’s eyes flicked to John’s, but his expression stayed carefully bland.
“Well, I’d better be going,” the man said casually.
Relief flooded through John at those words and he held himself completely still as the man exchanged a few more words with Sherlock and then finally - thankfully - started to back away.
“Ciao, Sherlock Holmes.”
“Catch. You. Later,” Sherlock got out, gun pointed towards the man even as he disappeared through the door.
“No you won’t!”
Sherlock turned quickly to John and threw the gun to the floor as he knelt and started frantically tugging at the explosive vest. John helped as much as he was able and when he was finally free, he sank bonelessly to the floor, his whole body trembling. Sherlock threw the vest away and knelt beside him, his hands resting on John’s shoulders and giving him a little shake.
“John. John, are you alright?”
“No. No, I’m not alright,” John said, his voice rising hysterically. “This is not alright! This is madness, complete madness.”
“John, calm down-”
“We could have died,” John cried, reaching out to grab Sherlock’s arms. “One wrong move and he would have set that b-bloody thing off!”
He was shaking uncontrollably now, his eyes fixed on Sherlock in a wild expression.
“You could have been killed,” he said, quieter but no less calm. “Sherlock...”
He gripped Sherlock’s arms tightly, leaning forward to press his head against Sherlock’s chest, letting the reassuring warmth of him settle John’s frantically pounding heart.
“John,” Sherlock whispered shakily, his arms sliding around him. “It’s okay.”
“No. No, it’s not. You’re an idiot, a complete idiot. You could have been killed and then what would I do?”
He pulled back just far enough to place his hands either side of Sherlock’s face, giving him a little shake.
“What would I do without you, you idiot?”
Sherlock blinked in surprise, but then he closed the distance between them, pressing his lips to John’s. John let out a huff of surprise against Sherlock’s mouth, but although every instinct he had was screaming at him to pull away, he found himself pressing forward, locking their mouths together. Sherlock groaned against him and he pressed closer as he deepened the kiss. It was only as Sherlock’s tongue slid over his that John crashed back to reality and he shoved Sherlock away.
“No,” he got out breathlessly.
Sherlock’s eyes went wide as John scrambled to his feet, putting as much distance between them as he could.
“No,” John said firmly, unable to meet Sherlock’s eyes.
He heard Sherlock about to speak up again, but before he could, several doors burst open at once and the police swarmed in, Inspector Lestrade in their midst. John sank against a nearby partition and let out several harsh breaths, his eyes fixed determinedly on the floor.
Chapter 7: Let Your Heart Be Broken
It was the early hours of the morning before John got home and he was exhausted. He crept through the house as quietly as possible and once he was in his room, he kicked off his shoes and collapsed on the bed, still in his clothes. Despite his tiredness, sleep did not promise to come easily, not when he felt so completely and utterly lost. His experience with Moriarty had left him shaken, but it was what he had shared with Sherlock that kept him from his rest. The first time he had kissed someone in almost twenty years and he felt nothing but all-consuming guilt; guilt for the betrayal of everything he believed in, and for the pain he already knew he would bring to Sherlock.
He had always cared for Sherlock, had always loved him in a vaguely fraternal - sometimes even paternal - kind of way, but somehow, without him even realising, those feelings had transformed into something far beyond the platonic. The idea of losing Sherlock - of him being killed at the hands of a maniac like Jim Moriarty - had been enough to make John realise that he could not live without this man, and he had been instantly overwhelmed with the desire to keep him close and safe and his. The kiss had been the final piece of evidence - the final proof - that he, John Watson, was in love with Sherlock Holmes.
It had taken only the space of a few seconds for the euphoria of that discovery to be quashed entirely by the sudden shame that swept through him. He could not be in love with Sherlock Holmes. The Church was his life. It had saved him at his lowest point and brought him such contentment, such happiness. He was a priest, meant to serve God and the people, and he could not give that up - not even for the most fascinating man he had ever known.
John lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling as he tried to reconcile himself with what he knew he had to do. It felt like something was slipping away from him; as if he was losing a part of himself. He closed his eyes and pressed the heels of his hands to them tiredly, praying desperately for strength. When he suddenly heard scrabbling and then the sound of his bedroom window opening, he felt his heart sink. The window slid shut again and silence descended over the room.
“I know you’re not asleep,” Sherlock finally said, and John let out a shaky breath.
“What are you doing here?” John asked tiredly.
He forced his hands away from his eyes and rolled into a seated position, his feet resting on the floor. When he finally dared to raise his head, Sherlock looked about as composed as John felt, his pale eyes flicking about the room before settling on John.
"You kissed me back."
John turned his head away.
"It was an accident," he said dismissively. "It was just shock, and adrenaline. I-"
John whirled round to protest, but froze when he found Sherlock standing in front of him.
"You're lying," Sherlock repeated softly, dropping to his knees in front of John.
“Sherlock,” John whispered painfully.
Sherlock reached up and pressed his hand to John’s face. John couldn't help leaning into it, just for a moment, but then he forced himself away, getting to his feet.
"You need to go."
"No, Sherlock," John said brokenly. "I am a priest. I can't do this. I won't."
John started when Sherlock’s hand came to rest on his arm and he whirled round, shaking him off.
"Please leave," John begged.
A look of frustration crossed Sherlock's face and he clenched his fists tightly.
"You know how I feel about you," Sherlock started, but John wouldn't let him continue.
"I know, and that is exactly why you need to leave. I'm a priest, Sherlock. I can't be what you want me to be."
Sherlock opened his mouth to protest but John pushed on.
"I know you don't have any respect for the Church, but at least have some for me. Please. Just go home."
After a moment of contemplation, Sherlock seemed to deflate, and he nodded sadly.
He turned slowly and made his way to the window, stopping with one hand on the frame.
"I don't want to feel like this, you know," he said quietly. "Love makes you weak. Makes you vulnerable."
John wanted to argue, but after the events of the night, it wasn’t easy - not when Jim Moriarty had so obviously used Sherlock's emotions against him.
"I've tried to stop it," Sherlock continued. "That's why I went away."
He let out a sigh.
"It didn't work. As soon as I saw you again, I knew nothing had changed."
Sherlock laughed bitterly and pressed his head against the window.
"It's ironic, really. Victor left because he said I was incapable of loving anyone."
John looked at him in surprise - he'd had no idea Sherlock and Victor had parted ways. Sherlock sighed again, his breath leaving a cloud on the window.
"What am I supposed to do, John?" he asked.
"I- I don't know. Get on with your life. Find someone else, someone who can love you properly."
Sherlock turned to face him again.
"You do love me though, don't you?” he pressed. “I wasn't wrong about that."
"Sherlock," John said - half plea, half warning.
Sherlock groaned in frustration and closed his eyes.
"You'll find someone else," John said gently. “I was just...convenient."
Sherlock’s eyes flew open, a look almost like disappointment crossing his face.
"Is that what you think it is?" Sherlock asked, a sharp edge to his voice. "Convenience?"
"Sherlock, I... I've known you since you were fifteen. And I don't think I've ever known anyone treat you with any particular kindness, or affection."
Sherlock looked a little shocked, and a little angry, at John's words.
"You- you think I'm in love with you because you were kind to me?"
"No," Sherlock answered sharply, running a hand through his hair in agitation. After only a moment, he raised his head and fixed John with a fierce look. “What about you, John? Are you in love with me because I’m the only person you’ve ever been close to?”
“That’s not fair.”
“Oh, please. It’s why you became a priest in the first place,” Sherlock said, his tone laced with anger and hurt. “It’s the perfect job for you, hiding behind the Church. You can keep people at a distance. You can keep life at a distance, because you’re too afraid of actually feeling something.”
“Coming from the man who shoots up whenever he can’t handle his emotions!”
He knew he had gone too far as soon as the words were out of his mouth and he stepped forward, hand outstretched.
“I have to go,” Sherlock said coldly.
“Sherlock, I didn’t mean-”
“Yes, you did.”
Sherlock threw the window open and climbed out without even a glance in John’s direction.
“Sherlock,” John called helplessly, but he was already gone. John shut the window behind him and sank to his knees, his head pressed to the cool glass.
John slept fitfully and finally dragged himself out of bed just past nine, forcing himself downstairs. Lawrence and Simon were already in the kitchen and they both turned to look at him as he came in. He knew he must look as awful as he felt and he slid into a chair, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.
“Morning, John,” Lawrence said politely.
“Would you like some tea?”
Lawrence moved away to make the drinks, but John could feel Simon’s eyes on him.
“You look tired,” Simon finally said and John forced himself to meet the other priest’s eyes. “Late night?”
“What are you trying to imply?” John said tightly, too tired to have any patience with Simon.
“I heard you get in at about four,” Simon commented.
John glanced at Lawrence, who was now watching him as well, and turned back to Simon.
“If you must know, Simon,” he got out. “I spent most of yesterday being kidnapped and held hostage by a psychopath bomber.”
“Are you alright?” Lawrence asked worriedly, even as Simon’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“I’m fine. Just exhausted. I had to stay and talk to the police, after.”
Lawrence placed a cup in front of him and settled in the seat next to him.
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Okay,” Lawrence said, turning his attention to Simon. “Simon, isn’t it time you were leaving to get to the school?”
“Yes,” Simon said reluctantly, still watching John in amazement as he got to his feet.
Simon got his things together and left, and John let out a sigh.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
“You didn’t look like you had the energy to deal with him this morning.”
“No,” John agreed with a tight smile. “It was a long night.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine, really,” he said, even though he felt far from it. “I’m just glad I don’t have much to do today.”
“If you need me to take over anything for you...”
“No, really. I’d rather keep busy. Keep myself awake, you know,” John explained with a wry smile.
“Alright then,” Lawrence said. “Just let me know if you need anything, anything at all.”
“I will. Thank you.”
As John had said, he didn’t have much to do that day, and he was extremely glad. He felt drained - physically and emotionally - and he was so distracted that he almost ended up ordering a new box of communion wafers when they had only just received a fresh one two days before. His mind just kept replaying the events of the last evening over and over again - the kiss, Sherlock’s caress, the harsh words. He felt truly miserable about their argument, and annoyed with himself for lashing out so cruelly. Sherlock had struggled with his addiction and it hadn’t been fair of John to throw it in his face.
John supposed he should congratulate himself. After all, he had wanted Sherlock gone - hadn’t wanted to risk temptation - and he had definitely achieved that. If only it hadn’t caused them both to get hurt in the process. There had been a kernel of truth in Sherlock’s words - of course there had been, it was Sherlock - and John had been smarting from the blow just enough to come back in quite possibly the worst way imaginable.
John sighed for perhaps the hundredth time that day and sank his head in his hands. He had given up on his few remaining tasks, knowing how useless he was today, and was now sitting at the back of the church, driving himself mad with self-flagellation. It wasn’t particularly productive - it certainly wouldn’t help him find a way out of this mess - but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
Simon’s voice startled him out of his thoughts and he quickly raised his head, turning towards the younger priest.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“It’s fine,” John said. “Did you need me for something?”
Simon sat down next to him, hands clasped nervously in his lap.
“I wanted to apologise.”
John did a double-take but remained silent, waiting for Simon to continue.
“I didn’t mean to upset you this morning. I-I wasn’t implying anything, I was just curious.”
John gave him a weak smile.
“It’s okay, Simon.”
“I feel like I should explain,” Simon continued. “It’s just... every priest I’ve known is so wrapped up in the Church that they don’t really have any kind of life outside.”
Simon paused and turned towards John, cheeks faintly flushed with embarrassment.
“You do though,” Simon said. “You have Sherlock.”
A week ago, this conversation might have pleased John, but now it just made him feel even guiltier. He wasn’t supposed to have a life separate from the Church.
“It’s inspiring,” Simon added, breaking into John’s thoughts again. “And I - it was wrong of me to question you. Father Lawrence told me about Sherlock’s background, about what you’ve done for him. So, I’m sorry for anything I’ve said that might’ve made you uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine,” John said. “Really.”
He sighed and ran a hand over his face.
“Maybe you were right.”
Simon’s eyes went wide with surprise and John hurried to explain.
“No, not like that,” John said. “But the general idea, I suppose. Perhaps my relationship with Sherlock has been... inappropriate, at times.”
John fell silent, thinking of all the times Sherlock had climbed into his room in the middle of the night. John himself had commented on it, but he’d given up arguing very soon and let it slide because - well, because it was Sherlock. John shook himself out of his thoughts and turned back to Simon.
“Thank you, Simon, for the apology.”
Simon smiled awkwardly and left John alone once more.
“You didn’t need to say anything to Simon on my behalf,” John told Lawrence as soon as he saw him later that afternoon.
Lawrence settled at the kitchen table with his mug of tea, watching John closely.
“I thought he should be set right about a few things.”
John joined him at the table, picking idly at the chipped handle of his own cup.
“And I thought you might’ve been feeling a bit more sensitive about the whole thing this morning.”
John looked up at him in confusion.
“I heard you come in as well,” Lawrence said. “And then I heard you arguing with Sherlock.”
John looked away in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry if we woke you.”
“You didn’t,” Lawrence reassured him. “John, what happened? What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s nothing,” John said weakly.
“It’s obviously not nothing. You haven’t been yourself all day. I thought it was this kidnapping business, but that’s not all, is it? You’re upset about arguing with Sherlock.”
John rubbed his forehead, completely lost as to what to tell Lawrence.
“I thought you’d sorted things out between you?” Lawrence asked. “I thought everything was okay.”
“We had. It was.”
“How?” Lawrence pressed.
John took a calming breath, his eyes fixed on the table.
“I... I think I’m in love with him, and I have no idea how I let that happen.”
Lawrence was silent and John didn’t dare look at him. He didn’t know what good he thought might come from telling someone else, but he needed to share the burden pressing down on him.
“I’ve never felt so bloody helpless,” John whispered. “I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”
“What brought on the argument?” Lawrence asked quietly.
“I told him I couldn’t be with him and - I don’t even know.”
“Why can’t you be with him?”
John raised his head again, frowning in confusion.
“Because I’m a priest.”
“People leave the priesthood every day to be with the people they love.”
John didn’t know what to say to that. The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind.
“I almost left myself, once,” Lawrence added.
John’s eyes flew to Lawrence’s again.
“You did?” he asked. “Why?”
“I fell in love,” Lawrence said. “Almost twenty years ago now. She was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”
Lawrence smiled fondly and John couldn’t help smiling back.
“She was a nun,” Lawrence explained. “We worked at the same school.”
“We both chose the Church,” Lawrence said, his expression clouding as he met John’s gaze. “And some days I regret it more than I can bear.”
“Lawrence, I am so sorry,” John said sadly.
“It’s okay. It was my choice and I made what felt like the right decision at the time.”
Lawrence reached out and placed his hand briefly over John’s.
“I just don’t want you to forget that you do still have a chance to change your mind.”
John sighed and rubbed his face tiredly.
“I don’t know what to do, Lawrence,” he admitted. “The Church is everything to me. But Sherlock...”
Lawrence squeezed his shoulder and John looked up at him, his expression no doubt conveying how torn he was.
“What you need to do is take some time for yourself,” Lawrence said. “Get away from here. Away from Sherlock too. And you need to work out what you really want.”
“I couldn’t,” John said weakly. “It wouldn’t be fair to you, or to Simon.”
“We’d manage just fine. Do you honestly think you can perform your duties to the best of your ability right now?”
“No,” John murmured.
“Exactly. You need to focus on yourself. You need to make a decision,” Lawrence said softly. “And you need to be sure that it’s the right one for you.”
John reached out and squeezed the other man’s arm.
“Thank you, Lawrence.”
Lawrence smiled and John let out a long breath, feeling calmer than he had all day.
Chapter 8: Guide My Feet
The diocese owned a small house on the bank of the Thames, several miles out of London. It wasn’t used much, only occasionally by foreign visitors or priests on sabbatical, but it was clean and tidy and, most importantly, quiet. It was, according to the Bishop, just what John needed in order to spend some time contemplating the choice ahead of him - the Church or his increasingly intense personal relationship. Though he had studiously avoided mentioning Sherlock’s gender when he spoke to the Bishop, they had both agreed this was no time for half measures; it would be one or the other. If he chose the Church, he wasn’t sure his relationship with Sherlock would - or could - continue, even if they remained only as friends. If he chose Sherlock, there was no way he could continue to serve God and the Church in the same way as he did now.
On the one hand, God had been a constant in John’s life, guiding him whenever he felt lost. Being part of the Church gave him a sense of purpose and helped him to help others - it made him feel useful. More than that though, the Church gave him a sense of belonging; a feeling that this was exactly where he was meant to be, this was what he was meant to be doing with his life. He had always been so content.
On the other hand there was Sherlock. Sherlock was wild and unpredictable and fascinating. He had burst into John’s life with a sullen scowl and a desperate sadness, and John had been drawn to him even then. He had seen Sherlock at some of the lowest points in his life - had seen him overcome and succeed where others would have failed - and he had never stopped believing that that broken child could become the amazing man that he was today. He was cold and brilliant, when he needed to be, but there was a softness, a humanity to him that not many people got to see and John felt privileged to be one of the lucky few.
How on Earth was he supposed to make this decision? He wished that he had talked to Lawrence some more; found out more about how he had come to his own decision all those years ago. How had he known that the Church was the right answer? How had he come to believe that the Church was more important than a life with the woman he loved?
For all that John had told Sherlock quite decisively that they could not be together, he found himself thinking of that life now. Lawrence had opened his eyes to the previously unrealised possibility that staying in the Church wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do. A life with Sherlock; a life outside of the Church. John didn’t even know where he might fit in in the secular world anymore. Would he go back to medicine? Would he spend the rest of his life being someone for Sherlock to talk at? Was there even a place for him in Sherlock’s life? The man was devoted to his work, to his puzzles and crime. Where would John fit in to it?
On top of that, John couldn’t help thinking about the difference in their ages. For a while now, he hadn’t really paid much attention to the thirteen-year gap, but the prospect of a romantic relationship brought certain realities with it. Sherlock wasn’t even thirty yet. He had so much of his life still to live, so many experiences still to have. He could have someone closer to his age - someone like Victor - so why would he want a disillusioned old priest?
The time away didn’t seem to be helping John at all. He spent hours with his thoughts going round in circles, agonising over a decision he didn’t know how to make. He went about in a daze mostly, drinking endless cups of tea and staring mournfully out of the window, the beads of his rosary trailing back and forth between his fingers.
Five days in, he was thrown off completely when he received a text from Sherlock.
I’m sorry. SH
He had never worked out how to use the phone Sherlock had given him. At the time it had been a vague attempt at avoiding the uncomfortable feeling aroused by accepting it in the first place. He also had no idea if there was even any credit on it. Nevertheless, he couldn’t ignore Sherlock reaching out to him - he never could.
Somehow, he figured out how to compose a message and wrote a simple reply.
Don’t be. I’m sorry for what I said. John
To John’s surprise, only a few seconds after he had managed to send the text, the phone started ringing.
"Hello?" John said hesitantly.
"John," Sherlock said slowly, as if fearing he might hang up. "Where are you? Father Lawrence said you'd gone away but he wouldn't say where."
"I just needed to get away from London for a bit."
"From me, you mean," Sherlock said quietly.
John trailed off, not knowing what to say.
"I am sorry for what I said," John got out after a pause. "I was wrong to say it."
"I think we both said things we wish we hadn't," Sherlock said.
They fell silent and all John could hear was Sherlock's breath coming down the line.
"John?" Sherlock finally said.
"Do you remember you said to me once that... that whatever happens, we'll still be friends?"
"I remember," John said softly, resting his head in his hand.
"I... I can't lose you, John."
"We can just delete this whole thing. Forget that it ever happened."
"I don't think I can," John murmured.
The other end of the line went quiet.
John heard him let out a shaky breath, and then he spoke up again.
"I suppose this is goodbye then," Sherlock said stiffly.
"I think it's best if we just get it over with now. I won't contact you again. You can throw the phone away, if you like."
The line went dead and John dropped the phone on a nearby table, feeling suddenly lightheaded and a little nauseous. He had to fix this. He had make a choice, one way or the other, although he had a horrible feeling he might have already made it.
A week later, John finally returned home. He had already met with the Bishop earlier that day to discuss his decision and had left the Bishop's office feeling a bit sad, but calm, and even more determined in his choice.
Lawrence had been glad to see him back again and had instantly commented that he seemed a lot more at ease than he had been two weeks ago. John had smiled and thanked him again for all his help and advice.
There was only one person left for him to see now - Sherlock. It had been difficult not to contact him after their disastrous call but John had still needed time to come to terms with his choice. It would be better for both of them that the next time they met, John actually knew his own mind.
Determined not to waste any more time dithering and prolonging the agony, as soon as he'd had a quick wash and put on a fresh shirt, he set off for Baker Street.
Mrs. Hudson let him in with her usual pleased smile, but immediately told him that Sherlock was out.
"Inspector Lestrade came by earlier," she explained. "And a good thing too - he's been a complete misery for weeks now! He needs a good case to cheer him up."
John gave her a wry smile, some of his bravado disappearing at the delay.
"You can wait upstairs if you like, Father. You know what he's like. He could be back any minute, or he could be back in two days' time."
John forced out a smile and nodded in agreement.
"I suppose I'll wait for a little while."
"Go on up then, Father. Make yourself at home. I would offer you cuppa but I've got to pop out."
"That's okay, Mrs. Hudson. Don't let me stop you."
She gave him a warm smile and disappeared back into her own flat as John made his way upstairs to wait.
After forty minutes of waiting, John was about to give up when finally he heard the main door closing and, moments later, footsteps on the stairs. There was more than one pair of feet and, sure enough, Sherlock was followed closely by Inspector Lestrade as he burst into the room. Sherlock came to a startled stop as soon as he spotted John sitting in one of the armchairs and made an indeterminate noise.
"Oh, hello, Father," Lestrade said pleasantly.
"Inspector Lestrade," John replied with a nod, his eyes flicking to the Inspector before returning to Sherlock.
He could feel the weight of Sherlock's gaze on him as the other man's eyes tracked over him, no doubt making a dozen deductions from the state of his clothes and hair and face. Finally, that heavy gaze settled on John's throat - on the empty space where John's dog collar had sat for the previous thirteen years.
Chapter 9: What Wondrous Love Is This
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sherlock's eyes remained fixed on John's neck, whilst John's gaze continued to flick somewhat nervously back and forth between Sherlock and Lestrade. Nobody said anything for a long time until Lestrade cleared his throat and spoke up.
"What happened to the dog collar?" the Inspector asked with all the bluntness of a lifelong policeman, gesturing vaguely towards his own neck.
John blinked and forced his gaze away from Sherlock to Lestrade.
"I, uh... I don't need it anymore."
“Yeah. I’m... I’m leaving the priesthood," John said, risking a quick glance at Sherlock.
Sherlock’s eyes widened just a fraction, just enough for John to notice, before he glanced at Lestrade and quickly reined himself in again.
“Huh,” Lestrade said. “I didn’t think you were allowed.”
“They can’t really stop you,” John said with a smile.
“No, ‘spose not.”
Lestrade shoved his hands in his pockets and cleared his throat again as an awkward silence descended.
“Well, I’d best be off,” Lestrade said. He turned to Sherlock, who said nothing, then gave a nod in John’s direction. “Nice to see you again, Father.”
John didn't bother pointing out that it wasn't necessary to address him by that title anymore.
“You too,” he answered, rising to his feet.
“Bring that file back as soon as you can,” Lestrade told Sherlock, receiving only a distracted hand-wave in reply.
John watched as Lestrade rolled his eyes and then, finally, left them alone. The flat was quiet as they both listened to the sound of Lestrade’s retreating footsteps, and then the door shutting downstairs. John turned his attention back to Sherlock, only to find the other man staring at him in astonishment.
“You’re leaving the priesthood?”
The fact that Sherlock was repeating something was a pretty clear indication of his state of mind.
“Yes,” John said, unable to hold back a small smile.
“Why?” Sherlock countered.
“I’d hoped that was pretty obvious,” John murmured.
Sherlock seemed to contemplate that for a moment, shucking off his suit jacket and sinking slowly to the sofa, before raising his eyes to John’s.
“The Church is your life. It's everything to you. I don’t understand.”
John moved forward to perch on the coffee table opposite Sherlock, leaving less than a foot of space between them.
“Sherlock,” he said softly. “I love you. I’m in love with you. Whatever happens, I can’t make myself accept that that’s a sin. If I continued to be a priest, I’d have to denounce these feelings and repent, and I’m not sure I can.”
Sherlock was agonisingly silent, but he held John's gaze, and John could see the emotions he was holding back - almost as if he was afraid to believe what he was hearing.
"How far along are you in the process of leaving?" Sherlock asked in a tight voice.
"Far enough that I'd really like to kiss you right now," John said quickly, bravado propelling him forward, onto the sofa next to Sherlock.
Sherlock looked a little bewildered and, when John reached out to press a hand to his cheek, his eyelids fluttered helplessly and he swallowed hard.
“Can I kiss you?” John whispered, eyes fixed on his plump lips.
Sherlock gave a tiny nod of permission and John smiled, closing the distance between them and pressing his lips to Sherlock’s.
The first touch was incredibly gentle, a simple slow brush of lips with no urgency behind it. Sherlock's hands came to rest tentatively on John's shoulders and John smiled against his mouth, leaning in to the kiss. The memory of the pool - that he had viciously suppressed until now - came flooding back, mingling with the present and overwhelming him with the feel of Sherlock; the warmth of his breath, the softness of his lips, the gentle pressure of his hands.
They parted just as slowly as they had come together and John finally saw a smile spreading across Sherlock's face. It faded slightly a moment later when Sherlock spoke up again.
"I thought I'd lost you."
"Then you're an idiot," John said playfully, taking Sherlock’s hand in his and twining their fingers together. It was such a simple act, but it made John flush with swelling warmth.
"I am," Sherlock agreed, squeezing John's hand tightly. "I... I can't believe you're giving up everything, just for me."
"There's no 'just' about it. I want to be with you, Sherlock. I'm only sorry it took me so long to realise it."
This time, Sherlock leaned in and kissed him, and John reached out to pull him close. He buried his free hand in those dark curls and opened his mouth under Sherlock's. Sherlock moaned and kissed him harder, releasing his grip on John’s hand to move his hands to either side of his neck, angling him exactly where he wanted him. John clung to Sherlock tightly, letting him take the lead, tilting his head and welcoming the slide of Sherlock's tongue over his. John groaned and fisted his hands in Sherlock's shirt, filled with a hungry passion he hadn’t experienced in a long time.
A moment later, Sherlock pulled away and buried his face in the side of John's neck.
"Sorry," Sherlock mumbled.
"Why are you apologising?" John asked breathily, leaning into the brush of Sherlock's lips over his neck.
"I don't want to rush you into anything. I know you haven't been...intimate with anyone for a long time."
"That is generally the definition of celibate," John agreed, rubbing his hands up and down Sherlock's sides, heady with the power - the permission - to touch.
"You might as well be a virgin," Sherlock commented, his tongue tracing over John's jaw and drawing a gasp from him.
"I don't think virginity is something that grows back," John said, arching into Sherlock's caress.
He appreciated the sentiment - it had been a long time - but all the same he wanted nothing more than to drown himself in Sherlock. They had both been so miserable, thinking that they could never have this, and it seemed important to connect on this basic level as a first step towards healing some of the hurt.
"Sherlock," he murmured, moving to brush his lips over the other man's. "I've spent the last two weeks imagining what it would be like to be with you. Now, I'd quite like to actually live it."
Before Sherlock could have a chance to protest any more, John pressed their mouths together, sliding his hand round to Sherlock's nape and holding him close. He wanted to learn everything about this man; wanted to find out all the hundred tiny things only a lover could know - what made him sigh, what made him blush, what made him weak at the knees. He was admittedly a little lightheaded at the thought of all the possibilities.
Sherlock pulled away, looking down at John with pupils blown wide with desire. John reached up and smoothed Sherlock's hair off his forehead, smiling warmly at the sight of his flushed face.
"I love you," Sherlock whispered, his fingers tracing John's lips.
"I love you, too," John answered, drawing him down into another kiss.
In almost twenty years - nineteen years and about six months, in fact - the only touches John had had were handshakes and friendly pats to the arm and shoulder. Nothing like this. Nothing like the gentle scrape of nails on the back of his neck, or the warm slide of a tongue against his lips. The simple feeling of being so close to someone - mouth to mouth, chest to chest - was exhilarating, after so long without. It was like a whirlwind of sensation, of feelings, that John had almost forgotten.
Sherlock broke the kiss and pressed his forehead to John’s, his hand burning hot against John’s side.
“Will you stay?” Sherlock asked meaningfully, his eyes boring into John’s.
“Yes,” John said. “God, yes.”
Sherlock drew away and rose slowly to his feet, holding his hand out to John. John’s eyes flicked to his fingers, then back to his face, and he reached up and placed his hand in Sherlock’s, letting the taller man pull him to his feet. Sherlock gave him a look filled with heat and quickly turned, tugging John along with him as he made his way to the bedroom.
Sherlock released John’s hand once they had crossed the threshold and came to a stop by the bed, hovering with an anxious look on his face. John experienced his own sudden rush of nervousness, but he quickly pushed past it, crossing to Sherlock and pulling him down into a kiss. John wound his arms around Sherlock’s waist and ran his hands sensuously up the line of his back. Sherlock made a stifled noise against his mouth and his hands grasped at John’s shirt, trying to pull him even closer. They stumbled, just a bit, and John’s legs hit the side of the bed.
John pulled away, panting, and looked up at Sherlock. He looked a little overcome himself, his chest heaving, his skin flushed pink. John smiled up at him and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, watching as Sherlock’s eyes went impossibly darker. John took Sherlock’s hand in his and gave a little tug, coaxing him to sit.
“Been a long time since I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of a double bed,” John joked quietly.
Sherlock looked between John and the bed and then, before John could quite keep up, he was being pushed onto his back, Sherlock looming over him.
"John," Sherlock said in a low murmur. "I want to touch you. Will you let me touch you?"“
John nodded and wrapped his arms around the other man, drawing him close and arching into the contact as Sherlock pressed his open mouth against John’s pulse-point. One large warm hand smoothed down John’s front until it reached his waistband, and then tugged his shirt out of his trousers, sliding underneath to press against his skin. The first touch was electrifying, drawing a helpless gasp and a sudden, desperate need for more. John slid his own hand down Sherlock’s back and struggled with his shirt until he could get his hand underneath and rest it at the base of his spine. He felt Sherlock’s smile against his throat and closed his eyes, savouring the sensation of Sherlock’s smooth skin under his hand and, simultaneously, the almost ticklish dance of Sherlock’s fingers over his stomach.
Sherlock’s mouth found his again and John moaned, burying his free hand in Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock’s palm worked its way up to his chest, leaving gooseflesh in its trail. Long fingers traced the edge of John’s ribs and then slid up over his pectoral, brushing his nipple and causing him to take a sharp breath. It was almost too much to bear, a sensual flood that affected all his senses.
“Are you okay?” Sherlock asked, pulling away.
John hadn’t even noticed but he was in fact trembling - his body’s unconscious response to the deluge of sensation. He let out a short laugh, but when Sherlock went to pull his hand away, he covered it with his own.
“I’m fine. Really.”
Sherlock studied him for a long moment, seeming unsure.
“Get your shirt off,” John said firmly. “I want to touch you properly.”
Sherlock’s eyes went wide with surprise, but he instantly leaned back on his elbow, nimble fingers going to his shirt buttons. He stripped the garment off in no time, throwing it off to the side of the bed before settling beside John, propped up on his arm. John rolled onto his side, mirroring Sherlock’s position, and studied him for a few beats, before reaching out and skimming the backs of his fingers down the centre of Sherlock’s chest.
“You’ve always been so beautiful,” John murmured, following his hand with his eyes as he curved it over the dip of Sherlock’s waist.
“John,” Sherlock said with feeling, leaning in and pressing his mouth to John’s.
John kissed him back hungrily, sliding his tongue against Sherlock’s, as Sherlock’s fingers worked at the buttons of John’s shirt. Somehow they managed to get the shirt off, discarding it somewhere along with Sherlock’s, and as soon as John’s skin was bared Sherlock pressed in close, dropping his head to press his mouth to John’s sternum. John let out a moan and sank back on the bed, twining his fingers in Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock mouthed over his collarbone and trailed down to his ribs, his tongue a ticklish pressure on the sensitive skin there. John’s breath hitched and he pressed as close as he could.
The lean, hot length of Sherlock’s body was pressed up against him, the insistent nudge of his erection against John’s thigh leaving him in no doubt as to how much Sherlock wanted this - wanted him. The thought flooded John with heat, the intensity of his own desire banishing any nerves that had lingered tenaciously in the pit of his stomach. God help him, he wanted this man with every fibre of his being.
The hesitant brush of Sherlock’s hand on John’s waistband jolted John out of his thoughts and he pulled away, staring up into Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock searched his face, as if he was still looking for a sign that John needed to stop. John covered Sherlock’s hand with his own and dragged it down to press over his trouser-covered erection, determined to dispel any doubts the other man still had.
The first touch of Sherlock’s hand - even through his clothes - caused John to let out a choked moan and Sherlock finally gave a slightly sly smile, grinding the heel of his hand against John’s erection. John’s hands flew to the other man’s shoulders, holding on tightly as his eyes rolled back into his head at the breathtaking sensation.
“Clothes. Off. Now,” he got out, trying hard to keep breathing through the maddening pressure of Sherlock’s hand.
Sherlock took that as his cue to finish stripping John and John struggled to return the favour, eventually giving up as Sherlock pushed his hands away and finished the job himself.
They finally settled under the covers, skin to skin, and John couldn’t hold back anymore, dragging Sherlock towards him. He smoothed his hands down Sherlock’s back until he could get a good handful of his buttocks, and brought them together hard. Sherlock gasped but then pushed back, pressing John into the mattress and climbing over him, pressing them flush from head to toe. John bucked against him, heady with the feeling of Sherlock’s body pressed the length of his, and caught Sherlock’s mouth in a hungry kiss.
Sherlock managed to balance himself on one arm and reached between them, wrapping one large hand around both their erections and pressing them together. John gasped and rocked into Sherlock’s hand, blind instinct leading him as he lost himself in the feel of so much bare skin. John never wanted this moment to end, wanted to draw it out into eternity, but Sherlock’s tight grip and the slide of his hips and the way his mouth parted helplessly against John’s all combined to drive John out of his mind. His skin felt like it was on fire, and he couldn’t seem to breathe properly, but he couldn’t care less. Sherlock choked out a moan and John was helpless to do anything but follow him into oblivion.
John woke to the unfamiliar warmth of another body wrapped around his. Dawn had broken outside and the faintest light peeked through the curtains, revealing the sleeping figure next to him. Sherlock was sprawled half on his front, one heavy arm splayed over John’s stomach and his head resting on John’s arm. He stirred almost as soon as John looked at him and pale eyes fixed on John for a long moment before Sherlock shifted even closer, tucking his head against John’s shoulder. John smoothed a hand down the length of Sherlock’s back, pressing a kiss to his hairline as he hummed contentedly.
Sherlock seemed to tense unexpectedly at the gesture and when he spoke up his voice was muffled against John’s skin.
"I don't deserve this...you.”
John pulled back with a start, and Sherlock turned his face up reluctantly.
"Don't say that," John said fiercely, cupping Sherlock's face in his hands. "You do."
"You're too good for me."
"No. No, I'm not," John said. "You've never seen how amazing you can be. I have. And if I do nothing else with my life, I'm going to make you realise just how incredible you are."
"John," Sherlock’s voice was thick with emotion as he pressed his hand over John's.
John leaned in and kissed him hard, determined to drive those thoughts out of his head. Sherlock pressed against him and when John eventually drew back, Sherlock hooked a leg over his, apparently determined to get as close as possible.
"You're brilliant," John said, his mouth pressed to Sherlock’s hair. "And beautiful. And I love you so much."
He brushed his hand over Sherlock's arm where it rested over his stomach once more and twined their fingers together.
"I love you, John," Sherlock said quietly, his mouth brushing against John’s shoulder. "I think I always have."
John smiled and hugged Sherlock closer, lazily stroking his back. They lay there for some time, wrapped up in each other’s arms, breathing in time.
The quiet was pierced by the sound of Sherlock's phone beeping. Sherlock pressed a parting kiss to John's skin and rolled over with a groan, leaning over the edge of the bed to retrieve his trousers. John couldn't help but admire the view - the long line of his back, the curve of his behind.
Sherlock rolled onto the empty stretch of mattress next to John, fingers flying over the buttons of the phone.
"It's Lestrade," he said, with excitement in his voice. "There's been another murder in the case I'm working on."
He paused and turned his head towards John.
"Do you want to come?" he asked, his eyes lighting up.
"To a crime scene?"
John considered it for a moment and then smiled.
Sherlock grinned and threw himself out of bed, grabbing John's clothes from the pile on the floor and throwing them at him.
"Get dressed. There's no time to lose."
John laughed but moved to get dressed as quickly as possible.
"Won't Lestrade mind?" John asked as he was tucking his shirt in.
"Oh, who cares about Lestrade?" Sherlock answered with a dismissive wave, rushing towards the door. John hurried after him, caught up in the flurry of excitement.
Sherlock came to an abrupt stop in the bedroom doorway and John almost collided with him. Sherlock spun round, ducked his head down and pressed a short hard kiss to John's lips. A moment later, he was moving into the kitchen and heading for the door.
"Come on, John," he called, smiling back over his shoulder. "The game is on!"
I am genuinely sad that this is over. I've been absolutely floored by the response this story has received, so thank you to every single one of you for reading. I won't rule out any more glimpses into this universe, because I adore them, so keep your eyes out in future.
Once again, I have to give thanks to my beta, lady_t_220. She is the Church expert in this partnership and thanks to her, this story was brought to life. I am extremely grateful for her help, guidance, encouragement and diligence.
This story also owes much of its provenance to the beautiful 'Thorn Birds' by Colleen McCullough. I urge you all to read it, or watch the mini-series. Although not if you want your heart to remain intact...